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How to Copyright a Book

Once you've written a book, there are many ways you can deliver it to the world. In this article, we look at how to copyright a book, including some of the rights to his work that an author can sell to a publisher. Keep in mind that some of this may differ if you are self-publishing rather than using traditional publishing methods.

We clear up the confusion surrounding book copyrighting

The original author of a book owns the copyright to it. However, the owner of a copyright really owns a "bundle" of rights, each of which can be sold separately to one or more third parties.

When an author receives an offer to get published from a publisher, the offer should, among other things, specify what rights the publisher wants, or which rights the author is offering. For articles, short stories, or books, the offer to publish might request one or more of the following rights and subsidiary rights:

All rights

The author gives up all rights of ownership to the work. The publisher can publish the work in any format—print, film, or electronic—without additional payment to the author. The author retains the right to state that he or she authored the work, but loses all other rights to the work, including the right to publish, market, or distribute the work, create derivative works, or perform the work.

First rights

This term does not specify where or how material may be published, only that the publication has an exclusive "first use" right.

One-time rights

This gives a publisher the non-exclusive (i.e., can be given to more than one publisher at a time) right to publish the work once, often used after the first serial rights (see below) have been sold.

Paperback reprint rights

This is the right to produce the work in paperback after it has been published in hardcover or as an original trade paperback.

Second rights/reprint rights

After the first rights have been sold, the next sale of the work will be covered under these rights. This clearly states that the material has been published before and that it is now a reprint. The original publisher will usually be credited at the time of reprint.

First serial rights

This is the right for a newspaper or magazine to print part of a book before publication. The story or novel excerpt must not have been previously published in any other newspaper or magazine. This can be qualified by geographical area, e.g., First North American Serial Rights.

Second serial rights

This non-exclusive right allows several periodicals to reproduce the same material after its initial publication.

Foreign serial rights

This right applies when a story or novel excerpt is re-sold to a foreign market.

Foreign publication rights/English language

This gives an English-language publisher outside the original country the right to publish the book in its own market and, occasionally, other English-language markets.

Foreign publication rights/foreign language

This gives a domestic or international foreign-language publisher the right to translate and publish the work. The foreign-language publisher usually manages the translation process.

Simultaneous rights

These rights are used when work is submitted to more than one publication (the publications' circulations must not overlap).

Book club rights

Sometimes a book club buys the right to publish its own edition of the work. The book club must mention the original publisher of the book.

Condensation/abridgement rights

This right allows a publisher to publish an abbreviated or condensed version of the work. Reader's Digest is an example of an organization that might purchase such rights.

Large print rights

This refers to the right to license an edition of the work for reproduction in large-sized type.

Movie and television rights

This refers to the right to license an adaptation of the work for a movie or TV. For film, an option is usually offered (worth about 10% of the total price), valid for one year (sometimes extended). If the option isn't used, then the rights revert back to the author and can be sold to someone else. If the option is exercised, the film will go into production, and the author will receive the remainder of the price offered.

Sound reproduction rights

This right allows a publisher to make an audio recording of the work for books on tape, CD, or MP3.

Electronic publishing and multimedia rights

This is a fast-developing area, encompassing the right to sell and distribute the work on CD-ROM, store the work in a database, or publish/archive the work on the Internet, via email, or on a bulletin board.

Merchandising rights

Merchandising rights provide permission to license characters, or other discernible aspects of a work, for use on or with other products. This is especially common in the world of children's books.

Premium and commercial usage rights

These rights license an edition or adaptation of the work to promote or enhance another product.


On behalf of the author, publishers may grant requests from other authors or publishers for the right to reprint parts of a book.

Know your rights

In order to be successful in the writing world, you must familiarize yourself with the terms defined above. Book contracts are very complex documents and can often contain a myriad of legal jargon. Our book editors also highly recommend getting legal counsel before finalizing any sort of contract. Before you submit your book for publishing or self-publish your book, send it to our book editors to be sure it is free from grammatical and spelling errors.

Image source: mkabakov/