• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

How to Copyright


I couldn't find a site that explains it simply.

How do you copyright characters, stories, and original creatures?


As far as I know, anything original you create is automatically copyrighted to you. That goes for a lot of things - paintings, photographs, novels, short stories, music, etc. I'm not so sure about individual characters and creatures, but I have a feeling those are covered by it, provided it can be demonstrated that they are original and uniquely yours. You couldn't copyright elves, for example, but something like the Charr in Guild Wars do count as their intellectual property.

I may be wrong about this stuff, I'm no expert in law, but that's it as I understand it.
Depends on the country. What about copyright.gov? Usually the mere act of creation copyrights the work. Proving copyright is another matter and usually involves things like lawyers.


So as long as I have official dates of creation to prove I was the original creator then I shouldn't worry about it?


I believe you're talking about two different things - copyright and trademark. Copyright is basically "the sole right to copy" (publish) a written work. Trademark is a "mark of trade," such as a slogan, a cartoon character, and the like. You cannot copy or trademark an idea or a concept.

Copyrighting something is easy - you create it. The act of creation is sufficient to give you the sole right to copy the work. The difficult part is proving your copyright. That's where registration comes in at the US Copyright Office. Do you NEED to copyright your work? It depends. Most folks register a work if there's some kind of dispute. Usually, if you publish something, you include a copyright statement. That basically informs everyone that you are claiming the copyright - it doesn't guarantee that the right cannot be taken from you, but it provides a paper trail. For more information about copyright, see the US Copyright Office at U.S. Copyright Office - Frequently Asked Questions

Characters and original creatures - whole different ballgame. That is, at best, a trademark issue. In your case, it would be a "service mark." Those are a little stickier than copyright issues. If you want to trademark a character or original creature, then you must trademark it at the US Patent and Trademark Office. There, you must submit proof of your character or creature and prove that it is unique to you, and that it is something like a logo, a representation of your work. Trademarking a character or creature - probably not going to happen. Trademark FAQ: Start Here for First-Time Filers

Some folks use the "poor man's copyright" - which is basically putting your copyrighted work in an envelope, then mailing it to yourself so you can get a cancellation date stamp. Then not opening the envelope unless/until you have to prove your copyright to someone. Legally, it doesn't really provide any more protection, but it could help you if there was a dispute.


Chilari and Shadoe are correct: something is copyrighted the minute you set it down in permanent form.

However–if you ever expect you may have to prove you were the (first) creator, then you want to either do what Shadoe described as "poor man's copyright," or else register with the government. (I suspect that burning a copy to a CD would work, too, since the files will show the dates last altered. Yes, you can spoof the dates on your computer… but it would at least give you something tangible that the other guy would need to trump.)

On the other hand, my usual advice about registering is: "You should be so lucky as to have someone want to steal your work." Until you reach the point where that's a genuine concern, it's probably not worth the bother to go the extra, official step. And until a violation of your copyright is actually going to have a significant financial impact on you, you'll never take someone to court over it anyway. You can, by the way, "bulk" copyright material with the government, by sending multiple works in under a "collected works, vol. N" title; this at least saves a little bit of the hassle. (And expense, as I recall: I think there's a fee. Isn't there always? :rolleyes: )

One thing that is worth noting: I'm pretty sure that under American law at least, what type of suit you can bring does depend on whether or not you've registered your copyright. It should probably show under Shadoe's link; if it doesn't, I imagine Writer's Digest or similar sites should explain it. (Man, am I being lazy on this one: two things I didn't bother verifying? :p )
Last edited by a moderator:


Oh, and by the way, I can say from personal experience that it takes the U.S. Government about 18 months from submission to delivery of the official copyright/certification papers.


I was just curious. Just in case I write The Great American Fantasy Novel and end up having issues along the lines. I wanted to be informed for the hypothetical situation that I'd need the information.


The fear of having something 'stolen' from you is mostly unfounded. It's fairly easy to prove that you were the original writer of something, (simple knowledge of the work itself would usually suffice) and anyone lazy enough to try to 'steal' an idea probably doesn't have the creativity to write it well.

In other words, don't waste your time worrying about it.