ISBN & Copyright

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique numerical identifier for books, pamphlets, educational kits, microforms, CD-ROMs and other digital and electronic publications. Assigning a unique number to each published title provides that title with its own, unduplicated, internationally recognized identifier. Each different format of an electronic publication (e.g., Kindle, Kobo, EPUB, MOBI, PDF) that is published and made separately available is assigned a separate ISBN. Publishers, booksellers, libraries and others in the book industry use ISBNs to identify publications and determine the publishing country. An ISBN is required for the sale and distribution of a publication.

Here is what defines a Canadian Publisher

  • makes a publication available in Canada, and
  • publishes from an official office of business located within Canada, and
  • indicates that the published material’s place of publication, when it is given, is within Canada, and
  • has at least 75% of its employees based in Canada

Whether you are a company or individual publishing your own work, you must meet these criteria. An ISBN is valid internationally. As a publisher, you can use the same ISBN in each country where you wish to sell your books. In fact, you must request ISBNs only from the country in which you reside. Publishing firms that have offices worldwide must be assigned ISBNs by the country in which the head office or headquarters is located.

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) Canada online system is a free service that allows publishers to manage their ISBN account and logbook, to assign their ISBNs to future publications, and to modify information about their publications.

To request ISBNs, you must first create an account in the ISBN Canada online system. As a Canadian publisher or self-publisher, you are able to manage your own ISBN account. This will allow you to view your logbook online, update and edit data, as well as request new ISBN blocks.

What is an ISBN?

An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies each specific edition of a book or book-like product. This 13-digit number is divided into five parts of various lengths; each part is separated by a hyphen.

The five parts of an ISBN, in order, are:

  1. the EAN (European article number) product code: the first three digits of the EAN barcode number
  2. the group identifier: a single digit following the EAN product code that specifies the country or language in which the book is published
  3. the publisher prefix: a number that identifies a particular publisher within the preceding group
  4. the title identifier: a number that identifies a particular title or edition of a title issued by the preceding publisher
  5. the check digit: a single digit at the end of the ISBN that validates the accuracy of the ISBN

What materials are eligible for an ISBN?

The ISBN is intended for a monographic publication: text that stands on its own as a product, whether in printed, audio or electronic format. ISBNs are never assigned to music, performances, or images such as art prints or photographs. Below are examples of items that qualify for ISBNs and examples of items that do not qualify for ISBNs. However, the lists are not exhaustive.

Items that qualify for ISBNs

  • Audiobooks
  • Books
  • Brochures
  • CD-ROMs (non–music)
  • DVDs (educational, documentary)
  • E-books (digital books)
  • Graphic novels
  • Maps
  • Pamphlets
  • Picture books
  • Posters (educational)
  • Storybooks

Items that do not qualify for ISBNs

  • Art prints and posters
  • Board games
  • Calendars
  • Colouring books (with no text)
  • Comic books (periodical format)
  • Crossword puzzles
  • Customizable products
  • Digital applications
  • Greeting cards
  • Individual pictures or photographs
  • Music CDs
  • Office supplies and stationery (e.g., agendas, bookmarks, diaries)
  • Periodicals (e.g., journals, magazines, newspapers)
  • Playing cards
  • Search engines
  • Sheet music and music scores
  • Shirts (e.g., t-shirts)
  • Websites

How does it appear on the book?

The ISBN usually appears on the back of your book in number format and barcode. There are numerous on-line services, most of which are free, that can create a barcode graphic from your number sequence. If we are designing your cover we will do this for you.


To copyright something means to claim that you are the owner of that intellectual work, such as a painting or poem, a commercial slogan, a musical score, or computer program.

For a copyright to apply, the work must already have been created; you cannot copyright the idea for a creative work. Under Canadian law, an implicit copyright automatically exists when the original work is created, but a registration of copyright protects that creation and verifies that you are the creator and owner.

In Canada, copyrighting is a fairly simple process thanks to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) web site. When you register your copyright you should already have a title. Your work must fall into one of the multiple categories for print, visual and audio work. The current for registering a copyright is $50.

After copyrighting your work you can place the © symbol followed by the copyright holders name in the book. Even if you do not do this, the work is still protected by copyright.