Adventures in Copyrighting

Paul Lamb

Super Member
May 12, 2019
Reaction score
American Midwest
The contract with my publisher requires me to file for my copyright of my novel, One-Match Fire. I started down that road about a year ago. I'm finally there.

I had submitted the online form and mailed a physical copy of the novel to the Copyright Office a year ago. I also paid the fee, which at the time was more than I had yet earned on the novel. Then in February of this year, I received an email from them asking some questions about the novel. They had to do with the ten chapters that had been previously published as stand-alone short stories in various lit mags. I wrote back explaining that I had retained the copyright to those stories after they were published and that there was no issue with anyone else claiming their copyright. I thought I had addressed their concerns. I hadn’t. (I want to say that this is because they didn’t explain the problem clearly, but . . .)

That was back in February, and I hadn’t heard anything about it since then. I thought maybe that meant everything was okay and the copyright went through. Except I got no documentation of it, which worried me a little. I actually thought I should write them again to ask the status when their email came to me on Monday of last week.

It explained that my answer wasn’t satisfactory (and it apologized for how long it took them to respond). The problem lay not with who held the copyright on the previously published chapters but that it appeared I was attempting to file for copyright on both the whole novel and the ten chapters individually that had appeared in the lit mags. I learned that you can’t do that with one application, which is nice to know, but that wasn’t what I was trying to do. (And just as well since filing for those ten chapters individually at $45 per application . . .)

So what I had to confirm was that I was not filing for the ten chapters but only for the novel itself, containing new and revised content. And that was the key. Those ten chapters had to be revised to be considered part of the copyright-able unit that the novel was. If so, I could file for copyright on the novel as it was submitted despite ten of the chapters having appeared elsewhere before.

Some of those chapters had appeared in lit mags many years before the novel came together. I didn’t know I was writing a novel at the time, so I had needed to revise them to make them fit seamlessly in the whole when I compiled it. And the editors and I crawled all over them anyway when we were working on the developmental edit, so they were further revised. I told this to the Copyright Office, authorizing them to change my application to reflect the correct intent.

But this points out the subtle importance of something I’d seen in some novels. I’ve often seen written on the copyright page a statement that parts of the novel had previously appeared in slightly different form in other publications. I always thought this was merely a nice thank you to the previous publications, but I think it is more than that. It is, I suspect, stated specifically so that the Copyright Office can grant the new and revised protection. And it means, further, that if you’re going to collect your previously published pieces into a new whole that you intend to copyright, you must revise those pieces, however slightly, to qualify.

I received the certificate of copyright today in the postal mail.

That’s my understanding. If you know otherwise, let me know.
  • Like
Reactions: Elenitsa