Most authors know that they own the copyright in their work as soon as they write it. There’s no need to register, but it can be useful to have proof. One option is to register the copyright with the US Copyright Office – this is an option even for non-US authors.
Earlier this year, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), an agency of the United Nations (UN), created WIPO Proof as a way to register ownership of a digital file such as an ebook file or PDF.
A WIPO Proof token costs less than registering with the US Copyright Office. A WIPO Proof token currently costs twenty Swiss Francs (about $22), whereas registering with the US Copyright Office costs $45 or $65.
What a WIPO Proof token is and is not
A WIPO Proof token provides proof that you had a digital file when you created the token. It does not prove that you created the file or own the copyright. You could think of it as being akin to the old idea of posting a copy of the manuscript to yourself, but with the added legitimacy of being issued by a UN agency. In practical terms, if you need to provide evidence of ownership, being able to prove that you had a copy of the disputed file at some previous date is useful.
Indie authors are most likely to need something like this to prove their copyright to a vendor or distributor such as Amazon or Draft2Digital. I emailed the following companies to ask if they would accept a WIPO Proof token as evidence in a copyright dispute.
Barnes & Noble didn’t respond to my question.
Apple, Google, and KDP said that they couldn’t answer the question. They all said that their legal team would decide on a case by case basis.
Draft2Digital said that their vendors generally require authors to communicate directly with the person claiming copyright infringement, so they wouldn’t get involved.
Ingram Spark, Kobo, OneBookShelf/DriveThruFiction, PublishDrive, StreetLib, and BundleRabbit said that they would take a WIPO Proof token into consideration as evidence, if not outright proof of copyright.
Smashwords were the only company that definitively said that they would not take a WIPO Proof token into consideration.
Generating a WIPO Proof token
To generate a WIPO Proof token, you will need a WIPO account. Go to https://ipportal.wipo.int/ and click “Create WIPO Account”. They will send you an email with a link to confirm your account.
Log in to your WIPO account at https://wipoproof.wipo.int/wdts/. Click Get started.
Select your file and the ownership option that applies. That will probably be “Yes, I am the natural person who owns the file.”
Select the category. For books, use “Creative work (audio, visual, or literary work).”
The next screen shows a summary and the fee. I paid in British pounds rather than Swiss Francs to avoid currency conversion fees.
Once the payment is confirmed, you will go to a “Payment Details” screen showing the payment status as “Paid”. Click Continue.
It will then take you to a congratulations screen. Clicking the download button will download a zip file containing a PDF receipt and a token file. You can also download the token from your WIPO Proof dashboard.
I strongly suggest keeping the contents of this zip file, along with the file you uploaded, in a separate folder on your computer. If you ever need to verify your proof token, you will need the file you uploaded and the token file.
WIPO Proof tokens are tied to specific files because of the way they work. So if you get a token for the PDF print interior, it won’t be valid for the ePub. If you change the file, even slightly, the WIPO Proof token will no longer be valid. Therefore, keep the token and the uploaded file together in a separate folder on your computer.
I suggest using a PDF to generate the token, as they are still more widely supported than ePubs. Any claim will most likely revolve around the content of the book, rather than the specific formatting. The companies that said they would take a WIPO Proof token into consideration all said that they would accept a token generated for a PDF, even if an ePub had been uploaded to their systems.
Disclaimer: None of this is legal advice. I am not a lawyer.