How Long Does It Take for Your Work to Get Copyrighted?

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

How Long Does It Take for Your Work to Get Copyrighted?

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

A copyright is a legal protection that allows you to prevent others from using a creative work such as a photograph, song, video, or book that you created without your permission. In most cases, copyright protection lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years.

There are two forms of copyright protection in the United States: an automatic copyright and a registered copyright. How long it takes for your creative work to get copyrighted depends on which of these forms of copyright you seek.

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Automatic Copyright

Under U.S. copyright law, your creative work receives automatic copyright protection as soon as it is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression," which means another person can view it in some form. An idea for a story in your mind does not get copyright protection. If you write the story down on paper it receives copyright protection the moment it's penned.

Proving created work is difficult if it wasn't published to the public on the same date of creation. Using technology to record the work can help establish proof of the published date. For example, most cameras will record the date and time of an original photograph.

Registered US Copyright

In the U.S., you can apply for expanded copyright protection by registering a copyright with the United States Copyright Office. Registration does not extend the term of the copyright protection but provides other advantages. Registration makes it easier to prove a copyright infringement case against someone who uses your work without your permission. It also makes it possible for you to obtain larger damages (money) in a copyright suit and the infringer may have to pay your attorney's fees.

On average, The U.S. Copyright Office grants copyright registration around seven months . Copyright applications submitted online have shorter processing times, an average of six months, while those submitted by mail have longer processing times, an average of 13 months.

If a copyright registration application contains mistakes and requires correspondence with the U.S. Copyright office, the processing times are longer. On average, online copyright applications that require correspondence take nine months to process. Mail applications that require correspondence take an average of 20 months to process.

“Poor Man's Copyright"

A poor man's copyright refers to mailing yourself the work you want to copyright with some form of proof of the date sent or received. Doing this may provide some evidence regarding when the work was first created but it will not provide any of the benefits of a registered copyright. The U.S. Copyright does not recognize a poor man's copyright.

Your Copyright Application

The copyright application process is no doubt confusing, especially if you haven't navigated it before. You can ease the process and improve the chances of having your copyright application approved quickly by using an online service provider or copyright attorney prepare the application for you.

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.