Do I Have to Copyright Every Poem I Write?

By River Braun, J.D.

Do I Have to Copyright Every Poem I Write?

By River Braun, J.D.

Most literary works, including poetry, are automatically copyrighted as soon as you write them down or transfer them to a tangible format. For instance, if you write your poetry in a notebook or type and save it in a file format, your poetry is copyrighted. However, registering your literary creations with the U.S. Copyright Office provides more effective protection from copyright violations.

Woman wearing glasses writing on a sheet of paper

Registering Your Poems

In a short amount of time and for a small fee, you can protect your work with a copyright. Registering the copyright for your poetry enables you to enforce your rights against third parties who might try to steal your words or use them without permission.

Examples of copyright infringement include using your poetry during a public performance and publishing your poems in any format without your knowledge or authorization. Copyright infringement laws also protect against someone creating work that is based on or derived from your poetry.

However, to sue another party for copyright infringement, your poetry must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Also, to be entitled to receive compensation for statutory damages and attorney's fees, your registration must be filed before the infringement or within three months after the publication of your work. Therefore, it is usually best to file your registration before publishing your poetry or sharing it with the public.

Copyright-Protecting Your Poetry

Registering poetry with the U.S. Copyright Office is not difficult. You can file yourself or use a copyright specialist to ensure the process is done correctly in minutes. If you opt to go the DIY route, you can register online through the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO). The U.S. Copyright Office provides detailed information, including how-to videos, to guide you through the eCO's registration process. If you are required to supply a physical copy of your poetry, you can still submit your application and pay the filing fee through the eCO.

You may register a single poem or up to 10 unpublished poems by using the new “Group of Unpublished Works" option. The group registration is an easy way to protect a set of poems for a single fee. While filing on your own isn't complex, you can save time by using a copyright specialist who can take care of the legal work while you focus on your creative work.

Copyright Protections for Owners

As the owner of copyrighted material, you have the exclusive right to:

  • Create derivative works based on your original poetry.
  • Distribute copies of your poetry by selling it to the public, transferring your ownership, or by renting, leasing, or lending your poetry for use by another party.
  • Reproduce your poetry by making copies or records.
  • Display your poetry publicly.
  • Read or use your poetry in a performance publicly.

In most cases, the term of a copyright for poetry created on or after January 1, 1978, is 70 years after the author's death. Again, registering your poetry is not mandatory, but it is strongly recommended to protect your rights. Placing a copyright notice on your poetry is not the same as recording it with the U.S. Copyright Office. Register your poetry if you want to protect your exclusive rights to your literary works.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.