Can a copyright protect a working table of contents? 1 Answers as of September 28, 2016

During the writing and development of a book, can you have a working table of contents to include section titles, chapter titles, and sub-section titles along with detailed descriptions registered under copyright protection?

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Lawyer for Independent Media | Sue Basko
Generally, a mere listing of contents is not covered by copyright protection. However, a working Table of Contents is not a listing of contents, but is more a proposed outline of a work, so an argument could be made that it is a creative, original work that could be registered. Literary works can be registered with Copyright, and a listing of Chapter headings in itself may not be considered a literary work. If the table of contents is a detailed outline of a book that is going to be written, an argument might be made that it should be eligible for registration. If you are looking to protect the working Table of Contents during the planning and writing stages, Copyright registration may not be the most effective approach. It may be much more effective to try to protect your working Table of Contents with nondisclosure agreements that state liquidated damages for any breach and possibly with a covenant not to compete, that is, a contract whereby the participants agree not to take the ideas or materials and use them to create their own book or a book for some other entity. The working Table of Contents should be treated as a trade secret. That means it will be kept very securely and divulged only to those who are under a nondisclosure agreement. The physical handling of the Table of Contents as a trade secret will be most important. It must be password protected with limited access. Security precautions must be taken to make any such materials meet the legal requirements of being a trade secret. Trade secrets are the bulk of the way that most proprietary things in business are protected, rather than copyright. Copyright registration necessarily exposes the thing to public scrutiny and dissection by a Copyright officer. Keeping trade secrets locked away and divulged only to those that need to know and who are under a legal obligation not to reveal is the way most business secrets are protected. If you are planning to send the Table of Contents out with a query letter to literary agents or publishers, it may be worth trying to copyright register it in advance or trying to get a confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement in advance from those who will read it. Another option is not to send out the Table of Contents in queries and only divulge it once there is a serious potential agent or publisher who will willingly sign a nondisclosure and trade secrets agreement.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 9/28/2016
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