Copyright protects an “original work of authorship.” Writers, musicians, artists, architects, software designers and photographers can all copyright their work. Works do not have to be registered with the United States Copyright Office (USCO) in order to have copyright protection, but registration makes it easier for authors to argue in court that a work is protected. You can check online to see if an author has registered a work with the USCO as long as the work was registered with the USCO after January 1, 1978. For works registered before this, you need to request a manual search.
Checking Records Registered After January 1, 1978
Navigate to the “Search copyright information” page of the USCO website (see Resources). Click on “Search the Catalog.” You will be taken to the search page. Read the Search Hints on the bottom of the search page before entering your search terms.
Enter the search term in the “Search for” box. The search term can be the name of an author, the title of a work, a registration or document number or a keyword.
Enter the search category, such as “Title” or “Author” in the “Search by” box. Chose the number of records you want to view per page in the “Records per page” box. Click on “Begin Search.” You will be taken to a results page where you can view the results of your search.
Checking Records Registered Before January 1, 1978
Make an online request asking the Copyright Office staff to search copyright records for you. Navigate to the USCO's online search request estimate form (see Resources).
Fill in the information required on the form, such as title of the work, author, year created and registration number. You do not have to provide all of this information, but the more information you can provide, the faster the search will be.
Enter your contact details and click “Submit.” A member of the USCO staff will contact you in two to five days with an estimate of the cost for the search. As of 2011, the USCO charges $165 per hour, with a minimum of two hours, for this search. Once you have the estimate, inform the USCO whether you want them to conduct the search.