How to Copyright a Book with a Pen Name

By Brette Sember, J.D.

How to Copyright a Book with a Pen Name

By Brette Sember, J.D.

Copyright protection gives you legal ownership in your work. Even if you author a book under a pen name, you are still entitled to copyright protection of your book.

Woman tucking hair behind ear while writing in notebook

What Is a Pen Name?

A pen name is a pseudonym, or fictitious name. As a writer, there are lots of reasons to write under a pen name. If you write in two very different genres—for example, nonfiction finance and romance novels—using one or more pen names can help you create very clear author identities for your verticals. Writing under a pen name can also give you the freedom to author material you might not want tied publicly to your real name.

Famous Pen Names

Many famous authors have used pen names. After the success of her Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling authored a book under the pen name Robert Galbraith so she could submit the manuscript without being recognized. In his early years, when the publishing industry didn't think the public would be open to more than one novel annually from an author, Stephen King wrote under the name Richard Bachman in order to be able to publish more frequently. Famous mystery writer Agatha Christie wrote romances under the name Mary Westmacott.

How to Obtain Copyright

The first thing to know about copyrights is that as soon as you set words down, whether you do so on paper or on a screen, you own the copyright to them. No one else can legally claim your words as their own or use them without your permission. It doesn't matter what name you attach to the work—your own name or your pen name.

A more legally enforceable way to obtain copyright is to register with the United States Copyright Office. Doing so makes enforcing your rights easier since it creates a legal record of ownership. If you don't file and you want to enforce, you must take the extra step of proving you created and own the work.

Registering Your Copyright

Follow these steps to register your copyright with the Copyright Office.

  1. Visit the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) website. Log in or create an account.
  2. Navigate to the section for registering a new claim and beginning the registration process.
  3. Select the type of work you are registering and whether it is published or unpublished. Enter the title.
  4. Enter your legal name as the author, then check the box for a pseudonym and enter your pen name. Note that if you do not want your legal name associated with the public record, you should leave the first author field blank.
  5. Complete the "Claimant" section. Use only your legal name in this section, not your pen name. Entering your legal name here will not make it public.
  6. Pay the $35 registration fee. This fee applies only if you are registering a single work of which you are the sole author.
  7. Submit a completed, nonreturnable copy of your work—called your "deposit"—along with your registration. You can either upload the deposit or mail it in.
  8. Once you submit your application, you can track its status online.

Note that you can also register your copyright through the mail by downloading a form for literary works.

Length of Copyright Ownership

If you use a pen name on your work, it is protected by copyright for 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from its creation, whichever is longer. If you make your legal name public when you register the copyright, then you own the copyright for your lifetime plus 70 years.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.