How to Copyright a Children's Book

By Tom Speranza, J.D.

How to Copyright a Children's Book

By Tom Speranza, J.D.

If you've written or illustrated a children's book, you might wonder how to protect your work under U.S. copyright law. Copyright is a form of legal protection for intellectual property that grants the authors of original, creative works, including literary works, the exclusive rights to reproduce and sell such works (and license others to so), to create derivative works based on the original work, and to prevent unauthorized third parties from exercising those rights.

Girl at desk

Copyright Protection Laws

According to U.S. and international law, your book automatically has copyright protection the moment you create it and fix it in a tangible form that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device; an idea for a children's book is not protectable. A version of the book written, drawn, or printed on paper would count as a directly perceptible tangible form, and a digital version qualifies as a tangible form perceptible with a machine.

Copyright protects books for a long time: the life of the author plus 70 years. If a book's writer and illustrator are two different people, each of them is an author of the work, and the duration of protection would be the life of the longer-surviving author plus 70 years.

Advantages of Registration

Although you do not have to register for basic protection, registering your book with the U.S. Copyright Office does provide some additional advantages:

  • More detailed public notice of your rights. Applications and registrations are searchable, and you can obtain copies of the paperwork for registered works by submitting a request to the U.S. Copyright Office and paying the required fees.
  • Access to U.S. federal courts, if you decide to sue infringers.
  • The right to receive automatic damages and reimbursement of your attorneys' fees if you win your case.

How To Register

If you want to register your book for copyright protection, you can follow a few simple steps, including filling out the registration form, paying the applicable fee, and submitting a deposit regardless of whether your work is published or not.

1. Fill out the registration form.

You can register a literary work by submitting Form TX for literary works to the U.S. Copyright Office. Use this form even if the book has multiple authors with different types of contributions to the work. For example, one author can be the person who wrote the text, and the other can be the person who provided the cover art and illustrations.

2. Pay the applicable fee.

All applications for registration require payment of a fee. Electronic filing is cheaper than filing a paper application, and filing an electronic application for a single work with a single author involves paying an even lower fee. U.S. Copyright Office Circular 4 provides information about the current registration cost and other fees charged by the office.

3. Submit required deposits.

When submitting any application for copyright registration for a literary work, you must include deposit material, which differs depending on whether you published your work prior to submitting your application. In this case, "publication" refers to distributing your work to the public for purposes of selling it.

If you have not published your children's book when you submit your application, the required deposit is a complete copy of the book (which can be in digital form). If the book includes illustrations, the digital file should reproduce them in color. A paper copy of an unpublished manuscript would be another permitted version of the deposit, but the U.S. Copyright Office prefers digital submissions whenever possible.

If you have already published the book by the time you submit the application, you must submit the best edition of the published work. Books that are available only in digital form require a deposit of the digital file. Books published in both digital and paper form require a deposit of two copies of the tangible paper book.

Keep this information in mind when registering your children's book. While your book is protected as soon as you write it, you'll still have to follow these steps when formally registering your book. This will protect you from those who might try to infringe upon your rights.

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.