How to File a Copyright Application With the U.S. Copyright Office

By Victoria McGrath

As the author of an original creative work, you automatically acquire basic copyrights as soon as you create the work and fix it in a tangible form. A tangible form refers to physical documentation, from a pencil drawing on a cocktail napkin to a first draft of a screenplay or an audiovisual recording of an opera. When you file a copyright application, you claim ownership of the material. Once the copyright office processes your application, it makes your copyright registration information public through its federal database of U.S. copyrights. Copyright registration requires a certified application, filing fee and deposit of the original material.

Type of Copyrightable Work

You file your copyright registration application with the U.S. Copyright Office by completing an electronic or paper application. The application requires you to select the type of work to be registered. You choose between eight categories of copyrightable works: literary works, dramatic works, musical works, choreographed works, sculptural works, architectural works, sound recordings, and audiovisual recordings and motion pictures. Some application forms combine a few of the eight categories into more general categories. For example, the Form CO Copyright Registration Application contains a broad category for "performing arts" that includes musical and choreographed works, but not sound recordings. This application also contains a broader category for "visual arts" that includes graphic, pictorial, sculptural and architectural works, but not motion pictures or audiovisual recordings. Choose the category that best describes your original work.

Year of Completion and Date of Publication

You complete each section of the application, providing detailed information about the work, author and claimant. With the type of work to be registered, you include the title of the work, date of publication, nation of publication and year of completion. Provide the earliest and most accurate year of completion possible in case anyone else stakes a claim as the owner of the copyrightable material; you want to show that you created the work, fixed it in a tangible form, published it and registered it with the Copyright Office well in advance of any other claimant.

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Author and Claimant Information

In most cases, the author and claimant are the same person. In some cases, the author creates the work as an employee within the scope of his employment or as a commissioned artist under a written contract. If the author creates the original work as a work-for-hire, the company that employs him, or person that commissions him, generally owns the copyright. The application requires you to include the author's name and contact information, and claimant's name and contact information. If the claimant did not author the work, state how the claimant acquired copyright ownership from the author. These rights transfer by written agreement, will or inheritance, or other means. Specify the other means if applicable.

Licensing, Permissions and General Correspondence

Before you file the application, you detail any limitations of the claim. Specify any parts of the copyrightable material that you do not own, such as artwork or audiovisual, music or sound recordings. Provide the names and contact information for the persons to contact regarding licensing and permissions, general correspondence and the registration certificate. The Copyright Office will mail a certificate to the claimant, license and permissions contact, or the correspondence contact. You name the individual or organization to receive the certificate.

Application Certification, Fees and Deposit

When you complete the application, you sign the certification section to verify the truth and accuracy of all information provided in the application. The application must be certified by the author, claimant, exclusive copyright owner or an authorized agent of a rightful claimant. You submit your application with the filing fee, and deposit a copy of unpublished material or two copies of published material to the U.S. Copyright Office. If you file online through the Electronic Copyright Office or use a legal document service provider to help you prepare the application, you can pay your registration fees and upload your deposited material electronically. In addition to the electronic deposit, you must deposit two hard copies of a published work within three months of its U.S. publication or be subject to fines.

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