How to Find Copyrighted Materials

by Thomas King
Photographs are often registered as part of a larger collection.

Photographs are often registered as part of a larger collection.

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Copyright protection is secured automatically upon the creation of a work. However, registering with the U.S. Copyright Office ensures the owner of the copyright can sue for infringement as well as receive damages and attorney's fees. The general public can search for copyrighted materials using tools made available by the U.S. Copyright Office.

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For Copyrighted Material Registered Prior to January 1, 1978

Step 1

Navigate to the U.S. Copyright Office: Public Catalog website.

Step 2

Click "Set Search Limits" and select "Item Type." For example, if you are searching for a copyrighted song, you can select "Sound Recordings." You can select more than one item type. You can also type in a date range to limit your search if you know the approximate date in which the copyrighted material was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Step 3

Click "Set Search Limits."

Step 4

Select a search method (Name, keyword, registration number, etc.) from the "Search by" box and type the relevant information into the "Search for" box.

Step 5

Click "Begin Search." A list of copyrighted materials matching the search criteria appears. You can click on each item to get more information, including the description, copyright claimant and registration date.

For Copyrighted Material Registered After January 1, 1978

Step 1

Visit your local library and search the Catalog of Copyright Entries. The manual contains material registered between 1891 and 1978. However, the manual is not conclusive. If you cannot locate the copyright materials you are looking for, continue to the next step.

Step 2

Navigate to the U.S. Copyright Office: Search Request Estimate website.

Step 3

Fill out the Search Request Estimate form and click "Submit." A U.S. Copyright Office staff member will receive your request and conduct a search. Staff members are paid by the hour; thus, you should include as much identifying information in the form as possible.