8 Parts of a Perfect Copyright Page - Creative Law Center

8 Parts of a Perfect Copyright Page

The copyright page is found on the verso of the title page.  

I wrote this post simply because I wanted to use the word verso. It's a great word. It means the page on the left side of an open book, or the reverse side of the recto, the page on the right hand side of an open book.  

Also, I wrote this post because a template for the copyright page is useful for authors and indie publishers.

Books are amazing works of art — visual, tactile, conceptual. Last summer I finished a Coursera on Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts and fell in love with words like verso, recto, quire, and bifolia while I began to understand the history of Western book making (the kind you read, not the kind where you lose money).

Take a minute to appreciate where we are in the arc of that history. We are moving away from the codex form that we've known for the past hundreds of years. A form in which paper, or vellum, or papyrus, or such, is constructed into physical books.  We have moved along the continuum of book structure into the flow of the electronic form.

copyright page is verso of title page

Gospel Book, ca. 1100, parchment with ink and paint,  Spanish or French, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland (click to enlarge)

With our reliance on electronic books in the digital age, have we delivered ourselves back to an age of impermanence? Back to a time of writing supports that fade or disappear or cannot be accessed, risking loss of knowledge and culture?

Or have we progressed from a time when books were rare, expensive, and only for the elite to a period of democratization of written culture? Now, books can be created by just about anyone and accessed by nearly everyone.

But I digress. It's something to consider further but not what this post is about. This post is an examination of the elements of the copyright page.

Copyright Page Layout

There is no mandatory layout to the copyright page. If you are in charge of your book and its layout, you can decide to do it differently than is suggested here. If someone else is in charge of the copyright page details (the publisher), you might find their name above yours on this page. 

While there is no required order of elements, common conventions have developed over time. You can choose to be unconventional, or give your reader the comfort of the commonplace when you layout your copyright page.

Copyright Page, Verso of the Title Page

A modern book is made up of three parts – the front matter, the body of the book, and the back matter. The copyright page is part of the front matter of the book.  Placement of the copyright page behind the title page makes sense. 

The title is an important part of a book. The back of the title page is a good place to detail whose book it is and how it was made. How these details came to be located verso of the title page is worthy of further inquiry, perhaps. Okay, I've used up my quota of the word. 

For now, we're going to accept the modern convention and examine the elements that make up the copyright page using this example:

copyright page template

[1] Disclaimers

The disclaimer is where you deny responsibility for certain things in your book. The idea is that a disclaimer protects the author and publisher from liability for various claims. It's a fair idea and appropriate disclaimers should be included on the copyright page but they don't always provide the desired protection.

Disclaimers differ based of the genre of your work. The example here, The Insurmountable Edge, is an action/thriller novel and the disclaimer is designed to protect against inadvertent invasions of someone's privacy.

disclaimers on copyright page

Non-fiction books have disclaimers relevant to the topic or area of expertise covered in the text. A health and fitness book will tell you that it is not intended to replace your doctor's advice. Books on investment will warn that every person's risk profile is different and results described are not guaranteed or typical. Books about the law for non-lawyers carry disclaimers making it clear that a book is no substitute for professional legal advice. And so on.

Disclaimers don't need to be dry or dull to be effective. They can be used  to showcase your creativity,  to set a tone for your book, or to display a touch of humor.

Because disclaimers are intended to prevent litigation, they are placed at the top of the copyright page where they are more likely to be read.

[2] Copyright Notice

A copyright notice has three parts:

  • the copyright symbol is a lowercase "c" in a circle — © (which we all know and I have come to love);
  • the year in which the work was published (important for works published under a pseudonym or anonymously); and
  • the name of the copyright owner.
copyright notice form

The word "Copyright" is not a necessary part of the notice when © is present, but can be used instead of ©. The abbreviation "Copr." can also be used.

Using a copyright notice is good practice. It shows that you are serious and will exercise your rights if they are infringed. It can defeat a claim of innocent infringement, especially if the copyright notice is intentionally removed or obscured. 

[3] All Rights Reserved

The phrase "All Rights Reserved" doesn't have legal effect anymore. But its use has become ingrained in the publishing industry and it is still usually included on the copyright page. 

Like the copyright notice, the phrase "All Rights Reserved," along with the list of prohibited activities, signals to the readers that the owner intends to enforce their rights. A good, practical reason for its use.

all rights reserved on copyright page

The phrase is no longer necessary because, since 1989 in the United States, copyright attaches the moment a creative work is fixed in a tangible medium. The copyright notice serves the same purpose as the phrase "All Rights Reserved," and neither is necessary as a legal matter.

Here's how the phrase became part of conventional copyright page layout: 

In 1910, the United States became a signatory to the Buenos Aires Copyright Convention. This treaty, between some countries in the Americas, established mutual recognition of copyright among the signing countries.  A statement reserving all property rights was a requirement for protection under this treaty. Using "All Rights Reserved" met the requirement.

In 1989, when the United States joined the Berne Convention (over 100 years after it was drafted), the phrase became superfluous (as did the copyright notice). The Berne Convention states that unless expressed to the contrary, all rights are reserved to the author.

[4] Publisher Details

The name of the publisher is generally found on the copyright page. In order to qualify for a Library of Congress Control Number, a street address needs to be included.

publisher address on copyright page

If the publisher is responsible for handling licensing and permissions for the work, I'd suggest including an email address or phone number. Anything that makes generating multiple revenue streams easier, like good contact information, should be included.

[5] International Standard Book Numbers—ISBNs

International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) are unique identifiers for your books. A different ISBN needs to be assigned for each separate edition and variation of your book (except reprints).

You do not need an ISBN to sell an ebook. You do need an ISBN to sell a hard copy through a book store.

ISBNs are used to track your books in various databases like sales catalogs, library catalogs, bookstores, and online stores. Because each edition needs its own ISBN (that's what makes it unique), ISBNs cannot be reused.

An ISBN is completely unrelated to the Copyright Registration number, although there is a spot in the copyright application for you to enter a single ISBN. A Copyright Registration protects content regardless of form (ebook, hardcover, paperback). The ISBN identifies the form the content takes.

[6] Library of Congress Control Number—LCCN

A Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) is the unique identifier for the Library of Congress's catalog record for a book.  To get one, you need to sign up for the Preassigned Control Number Program (PCN). The PCN system is fully automated and what used to take weeks now takes less than a day. LCCNs are free.

LCCN on Copyright page

To be eligible for an LCCN, your book needs to be unpublished. Once your book is published, you must send a copy to the Library of Congress. Sending a copy of your book to the Library of Congress as part of the PCN program is unrelated to the deposit copy you need to send to the Copyright Office as part of the copyright registration process.

LCCNs are only issued to books that come out in print. Only US-based publishers qualify for an LCCN and the place of publication (the publisher's main address) must appear on the copyright page.

If you intend to market your books to libraries, having an LCCN is a good idea.

[7] Legal Notices and Permissions

The book used in this example borrowed lyrics from popular songs. The author chose to license the lyrics. The license agreement requires that the ownership information appear in a specific format on the copyright page.

lyric license on copyright page

It is difficult to make a fair use case for lyrics. Lyrics are short and borrowing from them is likely to include the key lines, or the heart and soul, of the song.

[8] Credits

It is common practice to give credit to the cover and book designers right at the bottom of the copyright page.

design credit on copyright page

Book and cover designers ought to include the requirement in their contracts, just so there is no question.

Why No Copyright Registration Number on the Copyright Page?

There's no copyright registration number on the copyright page because an application for copyright registration is usually filed after the book is published.

Have you put interesting elements on your copyright page or know of someone else who has?

[NOTE: The featured image behind the title of the post is from from the Jaharis Byzantine Lectionary, ca. 1100 probably created for the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The illuminated manuscript is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is part of their open access collection. I chose an image where the verso and the recto aren't too visually busy.]

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8 Parts of a Perfect Copyright Page

About the Author

Kathryn Goldman helps small business people, writers, artists, and creative professionals make a living from their creative work by teaching them how to protect and enforce their rights. She is an attorney who writes these posts to help you be more thoughtful about intellectual property and the law as you build your business, write your stories, and create your art.

  • Shine 2001 says:

    Thank you so much for doing this!! It is so helpful. I used a vanity press for my book but it went out of business. My book is now doing really well and I need new copies so I am using KDP. Can I use the original cover art from my publisher since it is now out of business or do I need to create new cover art?

  • LJ says:

    This is so helpful!! Question – I actually have a page from a different medieval book that I want to use in a book I am publishing (vs. on a web page that you have here.) Do I need to receive permission, or can I use it and cite it like you did above? This one is St Matthew and his cat, Bruges, c. 1500. [Rouen bibliotheque municipale. Manuscript 3028, Folio 63r]. đŸ™‚

  • Ruba says:

    Using a famous quote, in my book, for example from the Buddha and crediting the quote to him, would I be liable?

  • I am selling an old book on-line and a customer has asked for a photograph of the back of the copyright page. I’m flabbergasted. What might they be looking for?

  • Diane says:

    What is the best way to protect a book cover design which was based on your own photo?

    • Copyright registration is the foundation of protecting all creative work. A good contract with the person you permit to use the image is also important.

  • Marist Fri says:

    Great presentation on how to organize the copyright page of a book. About to get a book published and I am grateful having to browse through your article.

  • Karl says:

    So if my paperback was published in 2016 and now I’m publishing an ebook of the same material (plus (new) artwork) and the ebook will have a new ISBN (but I wasn’t planning to register for a new copyright for the ebook) would the copyright page of the ebook say “copyright 2016, 2022”?
    If I “reissue” the paperback edition, does the copyright page have to include the ISBN and/or reference to the ebook or is that optional?

    • Karl,
      The copyright is 2016, not 2022. You could add a line that says, “ebook edition 2022.” The copyright page on a reissue of the paperback does not need to include the ISBN for the ebook.

      • Karl says:

        Just to clarify (the first part): so there’s no new year added to the ebook copyright page even though it has artwork that wasn’t part of the original (paperback)?
        Very helpful, thanks!

        • If the art is new and you own the copyright to it, then yes, include the new year.

          • Karl says:

            Very good, that’s what I thought. (As I understand it, I can include a copyright page/notice for something even if I don’t register it – so I figured adding an additonal year/date wouldn’t be a problem even though I’m not separately registering the ebook, with the new artwork.) There sure are a lot of gray areas with copyright, though, so I appreciate the input!

  • This is excellent, Kathryn. Thank you for posting.

  • Alan says:

    A really useful article. Well done.

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