Pen names have been a part of literature for as long as literature has been around. Women authors used to write under male names, some authors didn’t want to be known as authors, and some wanted to write outside of their established genre. The same reasons for using a pen name exist today and, no matter what your reason for choosing to write under a pen name is, it is important to know how to copyright a pen name. While it isn’t possible to copyright the actual pen name itself, the U.S. Copyright Office offers protection for any work written under a pen name.
The first thing you need to know about how to copyright a pen name, is deciding if you are going to give the Copyright Office your legal name in addition to your pen name. If you give the Copyright Office your legal name in addition to your pen name, your name cannot ever be removed and you receive copyright protection for your entire life plus 70 years after that.
If you decide to keep your legal name off the legal papers, you can add it later and your work receives copyright for either 95 years from the time it was published or 120 years from the time it was written.
Either option is viable, but it is important to remember that using only a pen name can cause issues with reprint rights, your family’s inheritance of the rights, and your royalty payments. As with any legal documents, it is best to visit a lawyer to discuss your options.
Another important thing to know when learning how to copyright a pen name, is that pre-registration can be very useful to you. Pre-registration allows you to sue for copyright infringement while you are still writing your book. If you are writing a book in a popular genre, pre-registration is something to consider.
For example, dystopian novels are very popular right now. If you were writing a dystopian novel and felt vulnerable to pre-distribution infringement, you could file pre-registration. Pre-registration is especially helpful when using a pen name because you are getting a jump start on your copyright, thereby protecting your new pen name earlier rather than later.
The next step for copyrighting your work, and therefore your pen name, is filing your registration with the Copyright Office. You can either submit it using the online electronic Copyright Office, you can download a fill-in Form CO and submit it, or you can go to the Copyright Office and submit a paper registration.
Since you are using a pen name, you have to fill in the “Copyright Claimant” space and check the “Pseudonymous” box on your form. The “Copyright Claimant” space is where you fill out the identification information you will be providing and the “Pseudonymous” box lets the Copyright Office know that you are using a pen name instead of your legal name.
Once you have completed registration, you have to send a copy of your book to the Copyright Office. If you filled out a physical paper form, you can just deposit it while you are there. However, if you filed for copyright online, you have to mail it into the Copyright Office with a shipping slip that they provide for you.
How to Copyright a Pen Name and Keep It Truly Anonymous
Once you have gotten your pen name and copyrighted your manuscript, you will probably want to make sure that that pen name stays anonymous. You will want to stay anonymous online and in the real world as well. It takes a little work, but it isn’t too much of a hassle as long as you stay smart about it.
To stay anonymous online, you will have to create all new social media accounts, a new email address, and new websites. Pay for a private domain for your pen name’s author website. Some charge a little extra to keep your information private, but if you really want to stay anonymous, it is worth the extra charge.
You should also make a new Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc. for your pen name so you can interact with your readers and market your material. Another good idea is to have any mail related to your pen name be delivered to a P.O. box at your local post office, keeping your true identity and location private. Most of the time, when people discover who the real face is behind a pen name, it is due to the author slipping up and posting something accidentally.
When juggling two or more identities, slip-ups are quite common. You just have to be careful and smart about how you interact with the web and with others around you.
Writing with a pen name is a decision you have to make yourself. Think about the pros and the cons, and once you decide, move forward with the steps I have given you. Knowing how to copyright a pen name and keep it truly anonymous is vital as a writer. Even if you decide not to use a pen name for your first book, you may decide to later in your writing career. So knowing how to remain anonymous is valuable.