If you’ve written a book, it’s likely the culmination of your ideas, your experiences, your insights, and a ton of hard work, so it’s important that this intellectual property is protected from infringement and other threats. Even if your publisher is in charge of protecting your work, it’s wise to ask educated questions and review everything you sign with an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law.

Copyright Protection for Authors

A copyright is the exclusive right to print or publish your material and to authorize others to do the same. Copyrights are also useful to authors because their power stretches into TV, film, and other industries where the book could be used without permission. Copyrights do not cover your ideas in and of themselves but, rather, the unique expression of them.

A copyright technically goes into effect the moment your content is created, but in order to legally enforce the copyright, it’s still necessary to register with the US Copyright Office.

Before registering a copyright, you need to make sure you are not in violation of any other copyrights. If you use song lyrics, images, or excerpts of other works in your book, you could be at risk for being sued for copyright infringement if you have not been given permission from the owner. Some uses (parody, critique, research) can be categorized as fair use and may not require permission, but that depends on how much content you borrowed and other factors, which, unfortunately, can only be weighed and clearly assessed by a court. This makes it important to have your licenses in order or, if you do decide that you want to rely on fair use, to consult early and often with an intellectual property attorney.

Public Domain

In terms of using outside works in your book, the only relatively safe area is true public domain works, which means books published before 1923 and government works. If you are not absolutely sure whether something is public domain, you should review it with an attorney.

What You Can Trademark and What You Cannot

A trademark is a symbol, word, or words legally registered or established by use as representing a company or product. Though trademarks also protect intellectual property, the requirements to register a trademark are more stringent than those for copyrights. This can strengthen the protection around the expression of your ideas.

The chances of your trademark registration being approved are dependent on your intentions and some factors from the outside world. For example, if disruption is a theme in your book, you can’t trademark the word disruption unless it is connected to a good or service that you’re selling. Common words are also difficult to trademark, because of the likelihood that the trademark would be violated every day. That said, if you wanted to trademark “John Smith’s Disruptive Method for Success,” a tutorial that you sell to your clients, you would stand a much better chance of having your trademark approved. You could also trademark the title of a series, like The John Smith Disruptive Method for Success series, because it is a unique title for a product that you’re selling.

Additionally, keep in mind that the trademark will apply only within your specific market and class of services. A trademark registration can be particularly advantageous if you’re the first in your industry to trademark the title of an important service, but difficulties can arise if you’ve trademarked the title of your book series, but someone is trying to claim film or TV rights to your work through copyright through a publishing agreement. Before you attempt to register a trademark, conduct thorough research on what you’re trying to trademark and its competition so you can assess whether it makes sense to seek a registration. If you’re not sure, here are a few questions to help you get you started:

·      Is this mark directly related to my product or service?

·      Is this mark commonly used in my industry or by the general population?

·      Is anyone else already using this, and if so, do they already have it trademarked or have a significant brand presence anywhere that could lead to confusion in the marketplace?

Finally, be familiar with your publishing agreement and whether it extends the right for you to pursue the trademark. Taking care of this red tape on the front end will help to ensure that you can monetize your rights with out conflict or delay when the ideal time to make a deal arises.

Published on: Aug 10, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.