Can You Change the Title of a Book After It Has a Copyright?

By Grygor Scott

An author or publisher may want to change the title of a book after it has been copyrighted for a wide variety of reasons. Perhaps the author came up with a fab new title. Or perhaps the publisher feels the original title is not marketable or the book’s editor hears through the grapevine that Stephen King’s forthcoming novel will have the same title. You can change the title of a book after its copyright has been registered under another title.

An author or publisher may want to change the title of a book after it has been copyrighted for a wide variety of reasons. Perhaps the author came up with a fab new title. Or perhaps the publisher feels the original title is not marketable or the book’s editor hears through the grapevine that Stephen King’s forthcoming novel will have the same title. You can change the title of a book after its copyright has been registered under another title.

Copyright Basics

U.S. copyright laws protect original works of authorship by granting an intellectual property right to authors. Authors have the exclusive right to publish and distribute copies of their copyrighted works, perform the works and create derivative works. An author whose copyrighted work has been infringed upon may sue the infringer for statutory or actual damages, depending on the circumstances.

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Titles and Copyright

Copyright laws do not provide legal protection for brief combinations of words. Names of businesses or products, advertising slogans and book titles are among the brief combinations of words that cannot be copyrighted. Although some brief combinations of words can be trademarked, it’s rare for a book title to satisfy the requirements for a valid federal trademark. However, some book series titles, for example the For Dummies series, have qualified for trademark protection.

Title Change

Because copyright protection encompasses only the text of the book, not its title, a title change does not affect an author’s intellectual property rights. Publishers and authors may change a book’s title after they have already registered a copyright. However, to avoid confusion and potential legal issues in the future, publishers and authors should consider taking advantage of the U.S. Copyright Office’s registration amendment process.

Supplementary Registration

U.S. copyright holders can file a supplemental registration form to amend their original copyright registrations. U.S. Copyright Office rules require that a supplementary registration either correct or amplify the original registration. A title change for a book qualifies as an amplification. Authors may fill out and submit Copyright Office Form CA to request a supplemental registration that provides the book's new title. The Copyright Office issues a supplementary registration certificate that incorporates the new title. The Office also cross-references the original and supplementary registrations in its official records.

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Does a Revision of a Book Need to Be Copyrighted?

References

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How to Copyright a Book by Two Individuals

When two individuals write a book, United States copyright law gives each author a copyright interest in the entire book. There are exceptions to this general rule – for example, copyright law treats compilations differently and two authors can agree between themselves to a different arrangement – but in most instances, the work of each author is treated as an inseparable interest in the whole. Copyright protection begins as soon as the book is written and fixed in some tangible form. Registering the book with the U.S. Copyright Office is important because it creates a public record and gives the authors the right to prevent unauthorized copying of the work by bringing a federal lawsuit for infringement.

Copyright Laws for Out of Print Books

Under U.S. law, copyright protection is not dependent upon publication. Authors of literary works have exclusive rights to duplicate, distribute and create derivatives of their works from the moment the work is first preserved in some tangible form. These rights extend for the length of the copyright, regardless of whether the work is ever published. The publisher may choose to cease publication of a book after a few years, but that book remains equally protected by copyright.

How to Obtain the Copyright to a Novel

Works of intellectual property permanently fixed in tangible form, including novels, are eligible for copyright protection. Copyrights limit the ability of others to copy or sell the copyrighted item, and items receive copyright protection as soon as they are fixed in tangible form. You do not need to register copyrights to have copyright protection. However, registering copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office creates a record that you own the copyrights and can serve as a deterrent to infringement. U.S. law does not allow copyright owners to sue unless their copyright is registered. Once you register for copyright, you can sue for an infringement that took place before the registration.

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