Copyright protects literary, artistic, musical and similar creative works from infringement by the unauthorized copying by others. The length of copyright protection depends on the type of work involved, but it can last for several decades, even beyond the death of the work's creator. While U.S. law automatically grants copyright protection to any work fixed in a tangible medium, it is wise to register a copyright in order to gain the full scope of legal protections available to copyright holders.
Fix your work in a tangible medium. A tangible medium is something that can be touched, such as paper, canvas, audio or video tape, or a computer disk or drive. A mere idea cannot receive copyright protection. Also, make sure the work is of the type that can be protected by copyright. Names, for instance, are not eligible for copyright protection, although they may be trademarked through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, if appropriate.
Submit a copyright application form to the U.S. Copyright Office. You can complete the form eCO on the U.S. Copyright Office's online system or print out Form CO and mail it to the U.S. Copyright Office. You may also need to fill out additional paper forms for certain types of works. For instance, designs for ship hulls must include Form D-VH, available only in a paper format. Both the online and paper versions are available through the U.S. Copyright Office website or by contacting the Copyright Public Information Office at 202-707-3000 or 1-877-476-0778.
Pay the nonrefundable filing fee. For those who file for registration using the U.S. Copyright Office's online form, Form e-CO, the filing fee is $35 for a single work or for a series of related unpublished works, as of 2011. Registrations that are filed on the paper form, Form CO, require a nonrefundable filing fee of $50, as of 2011. The fee may be paid online through the U.S. Copyright Office's website or may be mailed to the U.S. Copyright Office.
Submit two copies of the work you plan to register. For works that are difficult or impossible to copy, like sculptures, photographs or descriptions of the work may be enough. The U.S. Copyright Office provides detailed instructions for submitting copies of a work, including the preferred formats and sizes, where applicable. These copies are typically placed in the Library of Congress collection.
Tips & Warnings
Benefits to registering copyright include the right to sue for statutory damages and attorney's fees, the right to control the work and the sole right to distribute it for commercial purposes, according to the U.S. Copyright Office.
References & Resources
- U.S. Copyright Office: Registering a Copyright With the U.S. Copyright Office
- U.S. Copyright Office: Registering a Work (FAQ)
- FindLaw: Top 10 Reasons You Should Claim and Register Your Copyright
- U.S. Copyright Office: Copyright Basics
- U.S. Copyright Office: Online Services
- FindLaw: How to Secure a Copyright
- Ciaran Griffin/Lifesize/Getty Images