Copyrighting your work | Proper Manuscript Format | William Shunn

Copyrighting your work

A reader writes to ask:

At the end of your podcasts, you include the important fact that your podcasts have a Creative Commons license on them, and I'd like to ask how I can be sure my own work has that protection. I've uploaded some of the preliminary drafts of chapters of my unfinished book onto a website in PDF form, and I did put a copyright statement at the bottom essentially stating "it's my work, don't steal it," but I don't know if I need to receive any official documentation of a Creative Commons license, or if there's a more secure way to make my work available for anyone who wants to read it.

I want to preface this (slightly off-topic) discussion by stating that I am not an expert in copyright. Bearing that in mind, the first thing you should understand it that your work is copyrighted automatically by virtue of the fact that you wrote it. You don't need to include an actual copyright statement on your work to make that true (though you can, of course). If you anticipate ever litigating over unauthorized uses of your work, you might consider registering your copyright. (Learn more about American copyright registration from the U.S. Copyright Office at

The only reason you would need a Creative Commons license is if you want to be able to make your work available for others to repost, reuse and/or remix for free. With Creative Commons, you can customize the license under which you release your work, choosing which rights you want to reserve and which you want to give away. Cory Doctorow and other high-profile writers routinely release their books online under such licenses, and for some of them it seems to be working out very well indeed. (For more info on Creative Commons and how to license your work, please see

That said, when you post your work online, you always run the risk of someone using it for unauthorized purposes, Creative Commons license or no. Ironically, the safer way to ensure that no one reuses your work is probably to publish it on paper, since it's much easier to reproduce electronic documents than hard copy.

To close on a note more related to manuscript formatting and submitting, please remember that it is rarely necessary to include a copyright notice on your submissions. All reputable editors and publishers understand that your work is implicitly copyrighted, and the risk of their stealing your work and publishing it without attribution and recompense is, in practical terms, nil.  

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