Do I Have to Copyright Every Poem I Write?

By Louis Kroeck

Poems enjoy automatic copyright protection the moment you record them in a tangible form, such as writing them down on paper or typing them into a word processing program and saving the file to your computer’s hard drive. You are not required to formally register your poems with the U.S. Copyright Office, but doing so is important because it will give you legal standing to sue any third parties who infringe upon your work.

Poems enjoy automatic copyright protection the moment you record them in a tangible form, such as writing them down on paper or typing them into a word processing program and saving the file to your computer’s hard drive. You are not required to formally register your poems with the U.S. Copyright Office, but doing so is important because it will give you legal standing to sue any third parties who infringe upon your work.

Copyright Protection

Copyright infringement occurs when a third party uses one or your poems in an unauthorized manner. This could include republishing your poem without your permission, making derivative works of the poem or performing the poem in public. If you have registered your poem with the U.S. Copyright Office, you will be able to sue the infringer for attorney fees and statutory damages. For this reason, formal registration is very important.

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Copyrighting Poems

Although it may seem onerous, you should copyright every poem you write so that all of your work will receive the protections afforded by copyright registration. It is not necessary to copyright your poems the instant you write them, but you should apply for a copyright before publishing your poems or making them available to the general public.

Compilations

An alternative to registering your poems one by one and paying multiple filing fees, which can become costly very quickly, is to publish a series of poems in a single volume. When you copyright an anthology or book of your poetry, you only have to file one application and pay the filing fee once.

Registering

To register your poetry with the U.S. Copyright Office, you can either file a paper application or file online through the Copyright Office website. The filing fee for an online application is $35 as of 2012, while the paper fee is $50. You can file online at http://www.copyright.gov/forms/. You'll need to provide some basic information, copies of your poetry and the filing fee.

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How to Publish and Copyright a Poem

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How to Get My Poem Copyright Protected

Most written works in the United States, including poetry, are automatically copyrighted as soon as they are created. But registering your poem with the U.S. Copyright Office may be important to protecting your copyright. You have to register before you can sue someone for copyright violation, and registering will help you prove your case. In addition, you can generally recover attorney fees and statutory damages only if you registered your copyright before the violation occurred. "Statutory damages" let you recover money from someone who violates your copyright, without making you prove that the violation harmed you economically. If you think there's a chance that someone will copy your poem without permission, copyright registration is probably a good idea. You can register your poem electronically or by mail. The U.S. Copyright Office recommends electronic registration because it is cheaper and faster.

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