What is the copyright date of my book?

Copyright

One of the most common questions I am asked by new authors is this: What date do I put on my book’s copyright page?

For many authors this is confusing because they may have started the book in 2014, finished it in 2015, and intend to self-publish it in 2016. So what year do you put on the copyright page? The answer is 2016. To understand why that is, it is necessary to explain the difference between a work or title and a book.

The term title or work refers to the content created by the author; a book is the physical manifestation of that work. A title is therefore one of a kind but may be produced into a myriad of books: a hardcover, a trade paperback, a mass-market paperback, a Kindle book, an ePub, an audio book, and so on. If you print out your story on your home computer and staple the pages together, that is a book. Confusion reigns for many authors because in common parlance book is used to refer to both the title and the physical product—we say “I wrote a book” when really we should say “I wrote a novel (or manual, or memoir, et cetera)”—but in legal parlance title (or work) and book are different things.

Consequently, the copyright declaration in your book refers to the book itself and not to the work(s) contained therein, which may have multiple copyright dates:

your manuscript may be copyright 2014, vintage photos you include may be copyright 1980, and the digital photograph you licensed for your cover may be copyright 2010. When you then put these works together and publish them in an ebook in 2016, the book is copyright 2016. If you later publish the same content as a paperback in 2017, the copyright of the paperback is 2017.

The date of the book’s copyright does not alter in any way the copyright date of the content: your manuscript remains copyright 2014, the vintage photos remain copyright 1980, and the cover photograph remains copyright 2010.

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