The book copyright page

We’d guess that you’ve flicked past almost every copyright page in every book you’ve ever read. Who wants to read a load of legal jargon when there’s a story waiting for you to jump into? Copyright pages exist as a blur in our minds before we get to the good stuff.

However, now you’re writing your own book, those blurry, hurried-past copyright pages will take on a whole new significance. Copyright notices may not be a big deal for most readers, but for authors, copyright IS a big deal.

When you self-publish, writing and including a copyright page is essential. It’s also entirely your responsibility. And given that most of us know very little about copyright formalities and have barely given them a second glance, that means you’ll need some help.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through exactly what you need to include on your copyright page and why. Follow our steps, and you’ll avoid the embarrassment of looking unprofessional, and hopefully sidestep any stressful legal complications further down the line.

Why do we need copyright?

Copyright is about ownership of content and information, and the freedom to use that content. Every book you’d like to distribute must have a copyright page. It’s the first page any librarian, bookseller or distributor looks at, and its job is to help control and avoid legal entanglements.

Its wording helps make readers aware of what you the author owns, what other people own, and what nobody owns. This protects those various ownerships under law. It means people can’t just go away and copy and distribute your work however they want to. Well, not without facing legal consequences, anyway.

As the author, you actually own the copyright to your work as soon as you put pen to paper (or fingers to keys). The intellectual right is yours and automatically lasts your lifetime plus 50 years. However, automatic copyright doesn’t mean ownership would be easy to prove in court.

This is why we use copyright statements. Without the right copyright statements, your book loses many of the law’s protections and safeguards, and you lose control of your work.

There are eight main sections to a copyright page. Some aspects of the wording are essential, rigid and inflexible, while other sections carry a little more freedom to pick and choose and to be creative. Let’s go through them one by one.

Section 1: Copyright notice

You’ll want to phrase this statement like one of these examples:

Copyright © 2017, 2013 Shaun McGovern
Copr. 2017 by Shaun McGovern
© 2017 Shaun McGovern

To start with, use some variation of ‘copyright’ to indicate that this is indeed a copyright protected work. The easiest way is to use the instantly recognizable ‘c in a circle’ symbol, but you might also sometimes see the word ‘Copyright’ or shorthand ‘Copr.’ Common practice is to include the full word and symbol, just to be extra clear.

Next, comes the year. This should be when you originally obtained your official copyright. If your book is a later edition of an earlier book, then you should list all the copyright years of other editions too, as in © 2017, 2013, 2010.

Finally, there comes the copyright owner: you.

The copyright notice helps to show when the content became your property, but it’s not completely irrefutable.  If you want to give yourself a better chance of winning an infringement lawsuit against someone who copies your work, then there are other options you could look into. In the US, for example, you can apply to and register your book for $35. Most other countries recommend depositing a sealed, dated copy with a bank or solicitor.

Section 2: Reservation of rights

You could write this statement in a few different ways:

‘All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.’

‘All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without written permission of the copyright owner except for the use of quotations in a book review.’

‘All rights reserved’ means that you, as the copyright holder, hold all the rights provided to you by copyright law. This typically refers to anyone reproducing the work, adapting it, distributing it, performing it and displaying it.

The purpose of this statement is to make it clear which uses of your book are allowed and which are not. The first statement is the most common but can sound very stringent and uncompromising. It wouldn’t even allow people to use extracts for a book review – something that would likely benefit you! For this reason, more authors are starting to use the second version. You can choose whichever you prefer.

The truth is, however, that whatever this statement says, there exists a big, gray area of murky legal exceptions. This is known as ‘fair use’ and involves all the ways your content can be reused without your permission, even if you have reserved rights. These include criticism, commentary, reporting, teaching, research or parody.

Our advice would be for you simply to make your reservation of rights as clear as possible. Be explicit about anything that is absolutely not acceptable to you and list uses that you might want to encourage. Just keep in mind that some uses will be covered by ‘fair use’ rules anyway and that you won’t be able to control everything.

Section 3: ISBN

Here are some examples of ISBNs. You’ll likely recognize the long number format: they appear in every book.

ISBN 978-1-78324-002-9 (paperback edition)
ISBN 978-1-78324-003-6 (hardback edition)

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It is a unique number that identifies any book worldwide and helps publishers, booksellers, online retailers and libraries control stock. As of 2007, all ISBN have 13 digits. If you have a ten digit ISBN from an earlier book edition, there’s no need to include it. It’s only the 13 digit ISBN that matter now. You can read more about ISBNs and what they mean in our separate guide to these interesting little numbers here.

If you plan to sell your book in stores or online, an ISBN is not optional. In fact, every edition of your book needs its own separate number, and you’ll need to list them all on each copyright page. So, if you have arranged for a paperback, hardcover, epub, and Kindle edition of your book, you’ll need to list all four ISBNs on each copyright page.

ISBNs carry information about the publisher – one of the digits in the code refers specifically to them – which can be a little confusing when you’re self-publishing. If you’ve used a publisher, they’ll need to be the ones to supply you with an ISBN. If you’re publishing independently under your own name, you’ll have to register for ISBNs separately ahead of time.

Oh, and if you create extra forms of your book later, such as an ebook a few months after you’ve produced your print book, don’t worry – it isn’t such a big problem. Just be sure to add the new ISBNs to the list on any future reprints or editions.

Section 4: LCCN Details

If you decide to include LCCN details, it should look like this:

McCullough, Robert L., 1945-
Where Hollywood Hides: Santa Barbara/Robert L. McCullough & Suzanne Herrera  McCullough – First Edition
p. cm.
ISBN 978-0-9960522-3-8
1. Celebrities-California-Santa Barbara-Homes and Haunts 2. Celebrities-California-Santa Barbara-Anecdotes I. Herrera-McCullough, Suzanne
ii Title
CT105.M33 2014       920.0794’91

Why is this important? Well, a book with an LCCN – a Library of Congress Number – can be included in the Library of Congress. This could encourage others libraries to stock it as well.

The example we’ve shown follows the LCCN set order and arrangement. It always goes: author’s name, the title and copyright owner, a description of the number of pages (p) and book size in cm (left blank prior to publication), the ISBN, official subject classifications, the Library of Congress number, the Dewey decimal number, and the Library of Congress PCN.

This statement is completely optional, however. It only applies in the US and is really only worth getting if your book is a reference-style book that you expect to sell into other libraries. You’ll need to apply for an LCCN first, and self-published books are rarely accepted. So you may find this one just isn’t relevant or possible.

Section 5: Disclaimer

Here are some examples of disclaimer statements:

Some characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.’ (From a work of fiction.)

‘Please note this author is not responsible for any injury that may result from practicing the techniques outlined in this book. Martial arts are dangerous and you should only practice it under the supervision of a qualified instructor.’ (From a sports book.)

‘This book is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians. The reader should consult a physician in matters relating to his/her health and to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.’ (From a medical book.)

‘The author has made every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information within this book was correct at time of publication. The author takes no responsibility for any loss, damage, or disruption caused by errors or omissions, whether such errors or omissions result from accident, negligence, or any other cause. (From an investment book.)

Disclaimers like these make it clear you are not to be held responsible for certain things you have written. They help protect you against unnecessary lawsuits.

To find a disclaimer that best suits your book, think about the things people might assume from your material. Someone could think you’ve based a fictional character on them and decide it’s libelous. Behaviors and choices inspired by your book are worth thinking about too. A reader might get injured following your step-by-step exercise program, put on weight while on your diet plan, or lose money following your investment advice. To avoid hot water, you need to make a clear statement that you are not responsible for these assumptions or independent actions.

Now, you probably aren’t a lawyer, so you need to go carefully. Rather than trying to write your statements from scratch, our advice would be to find a suitable disclaimer from another book and adapt it for your own uses.

If your material is very specific, or if you want to ensure that local laws protect you, then you should seek advice from an attorney who will help you with the wording.

It’s also worth remembering that as long as you’re covering the important bases, there’s nothing wrong with making your disclaimer a little funny or entertaining! Take the following, for example:

‘Any apparent similarity to real persons is not intended by the author and is either a coincidence or a product of your own troubled imagination.  Where the names of real places, corporations, institutions, and public figures are projected onto made-up stuff, they are intended to denote only made-up stuff, not anything presently real.’ (David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest.)

‘All the characters in this work are fictional, as is much of the science.’ (John Cheever, The Wapshot Scandal.)

Finally, although it’s not a disclaimer as such, some people also like to include a statement about the environmental friendliness of their book and its production. This might include a mention that it’s printed on recycled paper or with non-toxic soy inks.

Section 6: Permissions

Time to move onto permissions. You’ll likely see people print them like this:

Excerpt from article in Automobile Magazine by Mr. Clarkson.
Reprinted by permission.

You must always credit things borrowed from other people. Even if you take words from work in the public domain, it’s good practice to give credit for that too.

Rather than a simple acknowledgment, it’s even better if you can back it up with ‘reprinted by permission’ underneath. Keep in mind, however, that if you plan to contact someone to request permission, it can take months and months. You might even end up being told no! Make sure you have a backup plan if permissions are integral to your publication.

Finally, if you find this section is getting too long, you can always create a dedicated permissions page in the back matter. Just add ‘credits and permissions listed on page X’ to your copyright page, so people know they’re there.

Section 7: Credits

This is the place to credit anyone you’ve paid to help produce your book. You may want to list people like your cover designer, book designer, proofreader, indexer, and printer. For example:

Editing by Bubblecow,
Front cover image by Emily Grisham,
Book design by Wordzworth,

Nowadays, it’s always useful to include a web address where people can find further details and contact information. Also, remember: this is not the place for credits to family and friends. Save those for your acknowledgments page.

Section 8: Publisher details

You might see a book display this as follows:

Published by John Githam
First printed 2016

or as:

Published by Wordzworth Publishing
Printed in the United States of America 2017

Always include the name of the publisher first. This is either your name or the publishing service you’re using. You can also include a company logo here if you have one.

Next, include the location and date of the print run. For print on demand (POD) books, this is simply the year of publication. The print location could be anywhere, and because your printer will print books individually as needed, there will be no such thing as a second or third printing.

For books you have had printed as a run, you can include ‘first printing,’ ‘second printing.’ Alternatively, you may see a string of numbers like this:
16 17 18 19 20 21 10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3

These numbers represent a litho printing convention: the right-hand number means the third printing, and the left means 2016. Before the fourth printing in 2017, the printer will rub off 16 and 3 from the ends of the printing plates, leaving 17 and 4, and so on the next year. This avoids having to make new printing plates every year for future print runs.

Section 8: Contact

Last of all, you may wish to include some contact details, such as:

Including an URL can be a useful way to help people find you and your work online, read your author information, and access any further supporting info. This is particularly important if you do not have a separate contact page at the back of your book.

And finally…

Copyright is one of those complicated areas of responsibility that can easily leave authors feeling anxious, especially if you’re new to publishing. It is a big deal and important to get right, but you don’t need to struggle through alone.

If you’re not sure if you’ve included the right things, you can always ask your designer for advice. However, if your questions involve finer points of law or you’re especially worried about liability or the implications of wording things a certain way, it may be worth engaging a copyright lawyer to discuss. It’s better to be sure.