Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Do Writers Need to Copyright Their Work?

What writers need to know about copyright
by Linda Gilden @LindaGilden

“Well, I’ll be glad to send my manuscript to you for editing as soon as I get it copyrighted. I don’t want anyone to steal my idea.”

Steal her idea? Anyone? Since I am the only one who will see her work if I edit it, I guess she means me.

One of the most frequent questions I get as an editor and coach is about copyright. The issue of copyright is important to writers. They want to make sure their material is protected and they have the right to do whatever they wish with the manuscripts they have created. New writers are sometimes overly concerned about someone stealing their material and not paying them for it.

Does it happen? Occasionally. But as team members in the publishing profession, we must trust each other. Because if we don’t risk submitting our ideas and manuscripts to a publisher or editor, our writing can never make a difference for our readers because they will never see it in print.

The moment you create a document, whether handwritten or typed into your computer, you own the copyright to that material. It is that simple. Some folks want to complicate the copyright issue but it all comes down to the fact that if you wrote it down, it you own it.

If you want to register your idea with the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., forms can be found at There is a charge for this. Even though their material is protected because it is written, some people prefer to have their work registered with the Copyright Office. There is nothing wrong with doing that. However, there is a lot of paperwork involved and it can get quite expensive if you register every piece of your writing.

When I first started writing, I had a little bit of the new writer fear of someone taking my work. I put my work in an envelope and mailed it to myself. As long as it remained unopened it was proof of the creation date and copyright ownership. However, many years later I found one of those envelopes and thought to myself—What in the world could this be? Curious, I opened it, thus nullifying any proof of the creation date. These days you could accomplish the same thing by emailing your manuscript to yourself when it is done. The email would always have the date on it and be filed in your mailbox.

So remember—the copyright of your written material is yours immediately after creation.

Do writers need to copyright their work - thoughts from author @LindaGilden (Click to Tweet)

Things writers need to know about copyrighting their own work - @LindaGilden (Click to Tweet)

Linda Gilden is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She loves to take one subject and create multiple articles from that information. Linda finds great joy (and lots of writing material) in time spend with her family. Her favorite activity is floating in a pool with a good book surrounded by splashing children.

To find out more about Linda, her writing, and her ministry, visit You can also connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. Linda, Great information. I emailed my manuscript to myself. Thank you.

  2. Ms. Linda. Thanks so much; I agree completely! As I understand it, the "First Owner", unless the manuscript or article is work for hire, has some five exclusive rights of copyright. Since sending your work to an editor is typically "work for hire", the author's rights of copyright remain entact. At the end of the day, most editors I've worked with do not change the work, they merely suggest changes. It is up to the author to implement them. Having your copyrighted work edited, formatted, etc. doesn't usurp the original author's rights. It's pretty old now, but a great book to help understand is "How To Protect Your Creative Work", from David A. Weinstein (Published by John Wiley & Sons)

  3. Thank you, Jim. You are right about editors often only making minor changes to your work. However, there are times when it is unrecognizable after the editor is done! Writers have to decide if they are okay with that or whether to refrain from sending any more work to that publication. Sending your work to an editor is not considered work for hire; you are just submitting a manuscript to them. Work for hire is a contracted assignment where you are paid and sell all rights and often are not even mentioned as the writer. Most of the time work for hire is initiated by the publisher although writers can inquire if there is any work for hire available. Hope that helps!

  4. Linda, thank you for great information.