Meriam-Webster defines copyright as “the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (as a literary, musical, or artistic work).
Copyright protects your intellectual property (for our purposes, your book or ebook) as soon as it’s put into permanent form (again, for our purposes, your book or ebook).
While your de facto copyright exists from that moment, the length of time for which you will keep that copyright protection varies from country to country. In the United States and the European Union, protection lasts the life of the author plus 70 years. But in some countries – notably Canada and New Zealand – copyright protection lasts the life of the author plus 50 years. Additionally, you may want to formally register your copyright with your country’s copyright board, as that copyright certificate of registration can be used in court as evidence of ownership.
Find the copyright detail for your country at these sites:
United States Copyright Office
Copyright Board of Canada
Australian Copyright Council
Copyright Council of New Zealand
Copyright recognizes that your fictional world/characters belong to you, but it’s not uncommon for writers to have similar plots. You can copyright your story, but you can’t copyright an idea.
You also can’t copyright a book title. My book, Sin Eater, lists along with at least a half dozen other books on Amazon of the same name. That’s not even taking into account the variations of that name: The Sin Eater, Sin Eating, etc.
What’s the difference between copyright and a trademark or patent? While copyright protects the original work of writers, a trademark protects words, designs, symbols or phrases (eg., KleenexTM) and a patent protects inventions or discoveries.
We’ll explore more about copyright and its relationship to fair use in upcoming blogposts. For now, your take-away point should be that copyright automatically exists when an original work is created.