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.

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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.

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.