How to Apply for a Copyright

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

How to Apply for a Copyright

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

When you create an artistic work, you automatically obtain copyright in it. However, if you want to enforce copyright protection for such works, including words you wrote, music you composed, or original works of art, you can apply for copyright protection from the U.S. Copyright Office. You can apply for protection for a variety of things, including novels, poetry, songs, movies, paintings, sculptures, computer software, and architectural drawings.

Woman reclining in outdoor hall and typing on computer

Step 1. Understand what you can and can't register for copyright protection.

Copyrights protect authors' written works—including novels and poems, composers' musical compositions—including accompanying works, dramatic works, plays, audiovisual works, sound recordings, pantomimes and choreographic works, artwork, architectural works, computer works, maps and technical drawings, and more.

You cannot register copyrights for names, slogans, titles, ideas, methods, concepts, lists, or sightings, although some of these items may be eligible for trademark protection. While you do not have to publish your work before applying for copyright protection, you can only register a copyright for something if you own the legal rights to the work.

Step 2. Complete an application for copyright protection.

If your work is eligible for copyright protection, you can either complete a paper registration form or file electronically using the Registration Portal on the U.S. Copyright Office website. The application form and information requested differs depending on the type of work. Follow the instructions on the form carefully to ensure you complete and submit all required information.

Step 3. Submit your application form and pay the application fee.

When submitting an electronic registration form, you can attach certain types of electronic files to your application, eliminating the need to send information through the mail or use a delivery service.

You must include copies of your work when submitting paper applications to the Library of Congress. You may need to submit multiple hard copies of the work you want to register when filing by mail.

Pay the necessary application fee based on the method you used for filing. You can find fee information in the U.S. Copyright Office's Circular 4: Copyright Office Fees.

Step 4. Keep your certificate of registration.

Your registration becomes effective on the date the Library of Congress receives your completed application and the required fee, however, the government still needs to process the application and could ultimately deny copyright protection.

Processing time can take between 2 and 28 months, depending on the method you used when you filed for registration and the complexity and completeness of your application.

After the U.S. Copyright office processes your application, it will send you a certificate of registration for your copyrighted work.

If the U.S. Copyright Office denies your application, you can file a request for reconsideration with an additional fee.

If you want help protecting your original works by copyrighting them, you can hire a business attorney who handles intellectual property law. Alternatively, you could choose to work with an online service provider.

Resources:

Copyright FAQ

U.S. Library of Congress: Steps to Copyright

Registering a Copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office

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