The Secrets of the Copyright Page

An advertisement for copyright and patent preparation services.
An advertisement for copyright and patent preparation services.

One page you’ll find in nearly every published book is the copyright page. It’s often full of small text, legalese, strings of numbers, and something called CIP data. So what is this stuff? And why is it so important?

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, the Copyright Act of 1989 actually makes such pages unnecessary. This act “does not require that published works carry a copyright notice in order to secure copyright protection.” However, most publishers feel they are actively discouraging infringement if they continue to lay out the terms of copyright clearly. Beyond serving as warnings to would-be plagiarists, the copyright page also makes citing books and seeing a book’s publication history easier.

Most copyright pages include the following (see CMS 1.19 for more information):

  • Publisher’s address

  • Copyright notice, often followed by the statement “All rights reserved”

  • Publication date, including the dates of previous editions

  • Country of printing

  • Impression line, indicating number and year of current printing

  • International Standard Book Number (ISBN)

  • Cataloging-in-Publication (CIP) data

  • Paper durability statement (this would be the FSC logo we discussed here)

Copyright pages also sometimes include a brief overview of permissions granted, a bio for the author, any translation information, and even acknowledgments.

Most of the items in the previous list are fairly self-explanatory. However, we’ll explore two that might be confusing to folks outside the publishing industry: the impression line and the CIP data.

The Impression Line

Publishers use this line to identify what printing a book is on and what year it happened in. A first printing of a book published in 2015 would have this impression line:

19     18     17     16     15               1     2     3     4     5

The left side represents the year a book is printed. The right side is the number of printings. Thus, the lowest number in each group signifies the current printing.

Now, if you saw an impression line that looked like the following, you’d be holding a book that was reprinted for the fourth time in 2012:

14     13     12                              4     5

Impression lines (in conjunction with the original copyright date) tell publishers and readers how well a book is selling. If there are multiple reprints in a short number of time, the book is more popular than a book on its second reprint four years after its initial publication date. Impression lines can also indicate that corrections have been made since the first edition. (Do note that a reprint is different than an edition. A second edition of a book generally requires 20 percent different content, whereas a reprint can be the same content.)

CIP Data

The Cataloging-in-Publication data on a book’s copyright page are usually prepared by the Library of Congress (LOC). A publisher sends the LOC a tagged Word document, and the LOC returns a paragraph of cataloging data specific to that book and author, which must be inserted as is (keeping all spaces and punctuation untouched) on the copyright page. These data are a bibliographic record of the book that, according to the LOC website, includes “an abbreviated version of the machine-readable cataloging (or MARC) record that resides in the Library’s database and which is distributed to libraries and book vendors.”

Once a book is published, the publisher is required to send a certain number of copies to the LOC office to complete the cataloging process.

So there you have it! The copyright page is an important source of information about a book, publisher, and author. Next time you crack open a cover, take a look, and see what you can learn about the behind-the-scenes process that made the book possible.


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