Dear Rich: How Do I Copyright a Children’s Book?

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Illustration by John Tenniel.

From Dear Rich: An Intellectual Property Blog.

Dear Rich,

We have a wonderful book about ready to send to the printer. The idea for the story came from my wife and I. We contracted with someone to write and illustrate the book. We have had many discussions along the way where we changed text and the order of the story, even getting together for a couple intense days of rewrite. We have this section in our contract:

“A. The Author hereby grants and assigns to the Publisher, its successors, representatives, and assigns, the sole and exclusive right to publish (i.e., print, publish, and sell) the Work in the English language in all forms in the United States of America, its territories and dependencies, and Canada, during the full term of copyright and any renewals and extensions thereof, except as provided herein.”

My question is, how do we actually copyright the book? Does the author have to do it and the contract gives us control or can we copyright it ourselves?


Under your contract provision, the author retains copyright to his or her contributions and grants to you, the publisher, the exclusive North American English-language book publishing rights. The author retains all other rights (unless the contract states otherwise) including foreign, translation, book club, film and television, audio, and dramatic rights.

Co-authorship? Your contributions—story ideas, structure, rewrites—may make you co-authors of the text, and possibly of the illustrations as well. In that case, the book would be considered a joint work, and you, your spouse, and the author would all be co-owners of the copyright.

Registration. Although registration is not mandatory, it is strongly recommended. Anyone who owns all or part of the rights that make up a work’s copyright may register that work. Therefore, because you retain those exclusive North American publishing rights, you can file as copyright owner of those specific rights. You would name the author (person who did the text and illustrations) as author, and if you determined that you and your spouse were co-authors, you would add your names as authors as well. By the way, you should be able to register the text and illustrations on one application (as a “single unit“).

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About Rich Stim

Attorney Richard Stim specializes in small business, copyright, patents, and trademark issues at Nolo. He practices law in San Francisco and has represented photographers, software developers, craftspeople, publishers, musicians and toy designers. He is the author of many books, including Music Law: How to Run Your Band’s Business; Patent, Copyright & Trademark: An Intellectual Property Desk Reference; and Profit From Your Idea. Stim regularly answers readers’ intellectual property questions at Dear Rich: Nolo’s Patent, Copyright & Trademark Blog. Rich is also an author on Intellectual Property Law Firms. Stim also produces audiobooks, such as Nolo’s Crash Course in Small Business Basics, and performs and records with two bands, MX-80 and angel corpus christi. You can also find Rich on Google Plus.


  1. Penny Higgins on May 20, 2021 at 2:46 pm

    This post was truly worthwhile to read. I wanted to say thank you for the key points you have pointed out as they are enlightening.

  2. Richard W Stim on May 20, 2021 at 6:18 pm

    Glad it helped

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