The short answer is no, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a gray area when it comes to your book. It’s the law after all. Once you write your ideas or, in the case of publishing, write your story, copyright is automatic. Therefore the story itself is yours whether or not you have filed for copyright. It’s legally your material, so no one can steal your book even if it hasn’t been published.
What does copyright protect?
Copyright protects tangible ideas that are stored even on a computer. This must be an original expression and doesn’t include ideas. This means your editor cannot take the book or chapter you sent them and publish it as their own. If this were to happen legal action would have to be pursued. The words you used to convey your story, your characters, and your writing is automatically protected. The work only has to exist to be protected. Formal copyright does not have to be filed with any offices or trademarked for the law to consider it your property.
What is not copyrighted?
Copyright law does not protect your ideas, concepts, or tropes.
If you send your editor your Beauty and The Beast retelling and they publish a Beauty and The Beast retelling right after your work is edited, that is not covered under copyright law. The law doesn’t protect ideas, retellings, or inspiration that is found in other people’s work.
Moreover, the truth of creative work is that no ideas are truly original. Even if you think your concept has never been done, there is always someone who has already utilized similar tropes, plots, and devices to convey a story like yours.
However, copyright protection does cover the original wording within your book.
Do you always maintain copyright?
If you’re traditionally publishing, one of the rights you sign over is your copyright. This allows the publisher to publish your book. However, the terms of this are highly dependent on your contract. Your agent should work with you to determine which rights you cede when a publisher offers you a book contract.
If you’re a self-publishing author, it could be part of your editing contract that your editor will hold the copyright while the book is being edited. The editor would hold the copyright until their invoice is paid in full. This does not mean your editor can steal your work during the editing process. In actuality, it means you are unable to publish it until you pay your editor in full.
What can authors do to protect their book?
Verify: The best way to start is to thoroughly vet anyone you plan on sending your book to. Having others read your books and provide feedback before they are published is a regular part of being an author. Therefore, you must seek trusted members of the writing community. Check to see if other authors have any online reviews or complaints regarding the people you send your book to.
Nondisclosure agreements: Put your boundaries in writing. Creating a nondisclosure agreement lets readers or contractors know that your work is protected, and they’re prohibited from sharing any information within your book. Find a basic contract to be signed before you release your book to any parties for feedback.
Read before signing: Do not sign anything without reading and understanding what you’re signing. If you have questions, ask the provider of the contract for clarity or revisions. All providers of contracts should be able to explain what you’re signing. Keep in mind, they may or may not be willing to edit the contract. If the provider is unwilling to alter the contract, it is up to you to decide whether or not it’s worth the risk to you. To clarify, this still doesn’t mean they have the right to steal your book. It does mean action may need to be taken if either party breaks the terms of the agreement.
Final points on copyright for self-publishing authors
The truth is that copyright laws are there to protect you against anyone, even editors, from stealing your book. Unfortunately, this does not mean it’s not possible. However, your written works are protected by copyright. It’s most common for authors to plagiarize (accidentally and intentionally) than for people to steal pre-published work. This does not mean it doesn’t happen and you should always protect yourself and your work.
Hopefully this made you feel a little better about the possibility of your editor stealing your book. For more information about working together click the button below. Furthermore there are links below with more information regarding copyrights.