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Can You Copyright a Pseudonym?

Categories: Copyrights, Legal Questions.
Q: Do I need to get a copyright for a pseudonym, or will a copyright for the book under my chosen pen name be sufficient?—Al de Araujo

A: The name H.G. Wells isn’t copyrighted. Neither is Michael Crichton. Why? Under U.S. law you can’t copyright a name, real or fictitious. Copyrights protect authorship, such as short stories, poems or novels.

You can register a manuscript under a pen name at the copyright office ( www.copyright.gov ). You’ll have to provide some information, including your real address. But if you really want to keep your true identity under wraps, set up a post office box and have information from the office sent there.

It’s important to get your pen name on record so the Copyright Office can acknowledge the proper life span of the copyright. Work created by authors not identified by the Copyright Office have a copyright life of only 95 years from publication or 120 years from the work’s creation—whichever comes first. If a writer identifies herself to the copyright office and registers her pen name, the copyright term for the work is the author’s life plus 70 years. Which means if I get hit by a bus tomorrow my work is still protected until 2078.

It’s also important to check with the office first and do online searches to avoid using names of real people or names that have already been taken by other authors. While you can’t copyright a name, you can get sued for identity theft. Also, publishers can get pretty angry if you try to pass yourself off as someone famous like J.K. Rowling or Dean Koontz. Stick with something unique.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

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0 Responses to Can You Copyright a Pseudonym?

  1. Liz says:

    Hello, I’m from Latinamerica and I been using the same penname to write since 1998. I recently registered one of my journalist articles with my penname in my local copyright office. First, they make me look into a huge book if my pseudonym was there already and it wasn’t there, so I proceed to registered the article and the penname.

    My question is, my penname (is not very usual) is the same as the real name of someone in the US, and someone else from France (I looked online), can I get into problems (legal) because of this? Thank you very much.

  2. Thomas Hemmingway says:

    remember Kirsten? Wow! does she have a following now: check her Blog site!

    Kirsten has a HUGE following w/ 181 (so far) Readers & (so far) 639 HITS !!!

    http://www.authornation.com/index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=887&Itemid=54

    and here: http://www.kirstenashenbrenner.blogspot.com/

    PLEASE drop over and say, "Hello" to KIRSTEN.

    - Tommy

    Thomas Hemmingway

    Lierary Agent,

    THL-East, Inc.

    Tommy.Hemmenway@yahoo.com

  3. Brian, on another topic, I have a question regarding formatting margins of query letters and manuscripts. I have seen references to using standard margins, but my resources seem to differ on what is standard. What would be considered the standard margin for query letters? for manuscripts? Thanks for your help!

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