Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

More IP Valuation

Thought I Better Do a Basic Friday Night IP Quiz…

Before moving on to the second and most commonly used way to value IP, in this instance copyright.

So be honest with yourself And do not tell me how many you got or didn’t get. These are so basic, if you are a professional fiction writer, these are silly easy. The answers will actually be at the bottom of this post, but don’t cheat doing them for yourself first.

1… When Publishing a Book wide, which elements contain copyright protection?

  • a…the overall story
  • b… the cover
  • c… the sales copy

2… In your story, which elements contain copyright protection?

  • a… the character
  • b… tne plot
  • c… the setting
  • d… the theme
  • e… all of the above
  • f… none of the above

3… How can copyright be sold to another party?

  • a… verbal permission
  • b… they use it and you don’t defend
  • c… written signature only
  • d… all of the above

So if you know just the very, very basics of copyright, this was not a quiz. Too simple. But if you think you know copyright and don’t, this could trip you up.

Answer to #1 is all three. All three have value, but writers seldom think of sales copy and covers having long-term copyright value. And all three are protected. But on balance sheets of an indie publishing business, you seldom see the value of the covers and sales copy.

WMG has almost 1,200 titles live. Say we used the cost method that I talked about a few weeks back to value each cover and each book’s sales copy. Go head, do the math.

Answer to #2 is of course none of the above. Go back to the basic definition of copyright. It is the form, not the content. This is the one beginning writers don’t understand. They think their wonderful idea is protected. Uhhh nope.

Answer to #3 is of course by written permission ONLY. Copyright is a property right, can’t be transferred any other way.

So next up in a number of posts is the second method of evaluation of copyright. The most used method.

And a plug for the new 52 week class on copyright called BITE-SIZED COPYRIGHT. You can learn copyright one bite at a time for 52 weeks. Find it on




  • Tom Slee

    Thanks for the post dean. Good to get a baseline of where I’m at haha. One question:

    If characters & settings are not protected – why can’t I publish a story set at Hogwarts starring Luke Skywalker without permission from JKR & Disney respectively?

    Plot I can see might be more open – Eragon & Star Wars have almost identical plots because they both follow the hero’s journey so closely (swap dragons for lightsabers…). And theme would be ridiculous. The whole point is that they’re abstract and universal. You’d be laughed out of the place you go to copyright things if you tried to copyright ‘what is the value of a human life (Saving Private Ryan) for example?

    • dwsmith

      Tom, let me suggest the COPYRIGHT HANDBOOK from Nolo Press by by Fishman.

      English hidden schools and bad fantasy sf characters were standard far, far before both of those. But you can’t use those because they are protected by copyright in their original form. And more than likely Trademarks as well.

      But can you use a kid saving a princess in science fiction setting. Sure. Can you use an old hidden English school for magic? Sure. Just can’t use those. In other words, you got to make up your own.

      And you really, really need to learn copyright. The Bite-Sized Copyright course we are doing would help you a lot.

      • Tom Slee

        Thanks Dean – while the course is tempting, I can’t afford it at the moment. I’ll start with the book you recommended and go from there.

  • Catherine

    According to the copyright office, the cover is not eligible for copyright. The art, yes, but if you’re licensing it, that’s not yours. The cover design is not copyright able. They wrote that all over my filing.

    • dwsmith

      It is not part of the book, but the over-all design of your covers most certainly is covered. And if you are using someones art you must show that you have licensed that art, but still the over all design of the book cover is yours if you did it and thus it is protected.

      Here is a very clear article on that…

      Your problem with registration, you can only register one copyright at a time and thus they are excluding the cover because it is a separate registration.

      Ahh the fun of copyright. Why I keep saying writers need to learn and it and just won’t, thus without knowing the law, you come up with conclusions like you just did.

  • Catherine

    I did a standard registration, not a single works one. It covers more than one thing, so that is not the problem. I’ve registered my maps and the text in one filing. It was either my wording (cover design) or some one there. They very specifically wrote on my filing “cover design is not copyrightable.”

    • dwsmith

      Something went south, that’s for sure, because that is wrong. Cover design has always been protected.And maps are often considered to be a part of a text. And standard registration only covers one item. You have to pay extra for more than one. But most weird, that’s for sure. Problem is don’t make an assumption like that from flawed data. It is easy to google to show how wrong that is.

  • James Palmer

    To be fair, the Luke Skywalker question does bring up an interesting point: there is a difference between copyright and trademark.

    The general story of a boy rescuing a princess, or a boy going to a magical school, can’t be copyrighted. But the name Luke Skywalker is a trademark of Lucas Film LTD and Disney, and as such can’t be used by anyone else.

    • dwsmith

      James, correct for that reason, sort of. It is also protected in the story by copyright, sort of.

      Trademark only goes so far and only in the same area. For example, if there was a part of a car named a Luke Skywalker and it had no reference at all to the books or the movies, that would be fine. But for trademark reasons, you could not use the name in another story in space. Of course, all this depends on how much money you want to give lawyers. When I think Trademark, I think “Lawyers Making Money.”

      Of course, Disney has entire buildings full of lawyers on salary, so you never mess with the Mouse. (grin)