Does a Revision of a Book Need to Be Copyrighted?

By Jennifer Mueller

Copyright protection begins the moment a literary work is created in a tangible form, whether handwritten or typed. The 1976 Copyright Act does not require formal registration for a book to be protected from infringement, and for works published after Mar. 1, 1989, affixing a notice of copyright on all copies to maintain copyright protection is no longer necessary. It is advisable, however, to formally register literary works, and later substantive revisions of those works, to maximum the benefits of copyright protection.


Although formal registration is not required for a work to enjoy copyright protection from infringement, there are benefits to doing so. Registration establishes a public record that enables an author to file a suit for infringement in federal court. Official registration also entitles the author to damages beyond actual damages, if infringement is proven. Additional damages include statutory damages, attorney’s fees and costs. If an author makes significant revisions to his original book, such that a "derivative work" is created, registration of a second copyright for the derivative work provides the same benefits of copyright protection to the new portions of the work.


Benefits also are achieved from including a notice of copyright on published works, although not legally required for copyright protection. Affixing notice to all copies of a book informs the public it is protected by copyright. It also identifies the copyright owner and year of first publication. If the work is copied, proper notice will prevent the infringer from persuasively claiming his use of the work was innocent because he was unaware the work was protected by copyright. Registration and notice fix the date of copyright by the author. Significant revisions to the original book should include notice of both the original copyright and copyright of the revision.

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Minor Changes

An author may make minor changes to his original book without impacting the work’s copyright protection. Examples of minor changes include correcting typographical errors or changing a chapter title. Ideas, names, titles and short phrases are not creative enough by themselves to be copyrightable, so copyright protection does not extend to titles or short phrases, which do not affect the copyright protection of the original work as a whole. Instead, minor changes become a part of the original work and do not qualify for a second copyright.

Significant Revision

If an author makes significant revisions to a previous book, copyright law considers that revision a derivative work. Copyright holders have the exclusive right to create derivative works based on their original creative works. For example, an author may change the ending of a novel or add new chapters to update a book about political affairs. In such cases, a second copyright is necessary to cover the newly added material. The second copyright does not enlarge the scope of the original, but only protects the new material.

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


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Originality and Copyright Laws

Copyright laws protect a wide range of works, including novels, songs, photographs, movies and computer programs. A copyright holder can file an infringement lawsuit against anyone who uses his work without permission. The issue of originality usually arises in an infringement lawsuit when the defendant claims that the copyright is invalid because the work is not original.

Are Song Arrangements Copyrighted?

A musical composition copyright protects the music and lyrics of any song from the moment it is either recorded in audio format or written in sheet music. This copyright covers the original arrangement of the musical notes in the song. Composing a new arrangement of the music constitutes a derivative work based on the original. Copyright owners enjoy the exclusive right to create derivative works based on their original work. This derivative work is independently eligible for copyright protection.

Can I Record Someone Else's Song and Change the Words in Parody Law?

United States copyright law grants legal protection to various creative works, including songs or lyrics. Under The Copyright Act of 1976, copyright holders have exclusive rights to reproduce their creations for a specific length of time. Those exclusive rights are limited by the doctrine of “fair use,” which allows for others to reproduce a work in whole or in part for use in a parody without the copyright holder’s permission, provided the parody meets certain criteria.


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