Sometimes, authors want to their true identity to remain hidden from the public. For instance, popular author Dean Koontz has written under at least eleven pen names. Many often wonder if authors who use pen names or pseudonyms can still copyright their work.
The answer is yes. As detailed by the U.S. Copyright Office, a work is considered “pseudonymous" if the author is identified on copies of the work by a fictitious name. Nicknames and other diminutive forms of legal names are not considered fictitious.
If you write under a pseudonym but want to be identified by your legal name in the Copyright Office’s records, you should provide your legal name and your pseudonym on your application for copyright registration. Check “pseudonymous" on the application if the author is identified on copies of the work only under a fictitious name and if the work is not made for hire.
If an author’s name is given, it will become part of the Office’s online public records, which can be searched via the Internet. Therefore, if you want to completely conceal your identity, you should provide your pseudonym and leave the space that asks for the name of the author blank.
The Length of Copyright Protection
It is also important to note that the use of a pseudonym can impact the length of your copyright protection. Copyrighted works published under a pseudonym are awarded copyright protection that is the earlier of 95 years from publication of the work or 120 years from its creation. However, if the author’s identity is provided in the registration records of the Copyright Office, including in any other registrations made before that term has expired, the term then becomes the author’s life plus 70 years.
Legal Concerns to Discuss With a Copyright Attorney
It is important to note that you should never omit the name of the copyright claimant. While you can use a pseudonym for the claimant name, it is important to understand that using a fictitious name has several drawbacks. For instance, business transactions involving the copyrighted property may be more difficult, as contracting parties may raise questions about the copyright’s ownership.