Copyright protection is a form of intellectual property law that gives the copyright-holder the sole right to copy, publish, or perform the work. According to the Copyright Office, copyrights protect "original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression," including novels, poems, computer software and songs. You do not have to register work to get copyright protection; protection attaches the minute an original work is completed. Registration is a discretionary means of providing a public statement of your copyright. It becomes essential, however, if you want to bring a suit for copyright infringement.
Determine whether the form of your work qualifies for copyright protection. The rule of thumb is that a copyright protects expression. You can copyright literary, dramatic, architectural, musical and artistic projects. You cannot copyright inventions, discoveries, ideas and methods.
Assure yourself that you are eligible to claim a copyright on the work. The author of a work generally holds the copyright. However, if you are an employee who produced the work as part of your job, your employer holds the copyright. Likewise, if you produce a "work for hire," specifically labeled as such in a written contract, you cannot claim a copyright on that work. This is often the case if your work was specially commissioned for inclusion in a collective work, a motion picture, or similar endeavors.
Decide whether to file an electronic or a paper application. Electronic filing is faster, easier and less costly, but it is not available for certain applications. These include registration of designs for vehicle hulls, mask works, copyright renewal and group registration.
Go to the Copyright Office website (copyright.gov.) If you want to file an electronic application, click on "eCO." Otherwise, click on "forms." In either case, select the appropriate form. The form TX is for literary works; VA for visual arts works, PA for performing arts works, and SR for recordings. Fill out the application. Even if you are not filing electronically, you can fill out the forms on the computer.
Prepare your filing fee. Check with the website or the Copyright Office to determine the current fee amount. If you are filing electronically, pay with a credit card. If filing a paper application, prepare a check or money order made out to "Register of Copyrights."
Prepare a copy of the work being registered to deposit with the Copyright Office. if you are applying electronically, file either an electronic copy or a hard-copy of your work. Those sending paper applications prepare hard-copy deposits. Generally a deposit will include one complete copy or one phonorecord recording if unpublished, two if published. However, the Copyright Office has special deposit requirements for many types of work; check the instructions in the website.
Send your paper application or the hard-copy deposit of an electronic application to: Library of Congress U.S. Copyright Office 101 Independence Avenue SE Washington, DC 20559. Expedite your claim by adding to the zip code the four-digit extension described in the instructions as appropriate for your type of work. For example, add "6222" if you are submitting literary work.