Imagine creating something for your business – like original photography, video, music, artwork, written content or computer code – and discovering someone stole it and is using it for their own purposes. All the time, effort, money and thought that went into your unique creation is wasted.
To protect your ideas and prevent others from replicating or stealing them, consider applying for a copyright. Registering for a copyright creates a record of your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. While registration isn’t required, not registering can be a crucial intellectual property mistake that can hurt your business.
We’ll explain how to apply for a copyright online and explore the benefits of copyright registration.
When you register for a copyright, you can sue others for copyright infringement if they take and use your intellectual property without permission. Luckily, registering and applying for a copyright is straightforward online.
Here are four steps for online copyright registration.
Not everything can be copyrighted; many people are confused about the difference between a copyright and a patent. Copyrights protect created work and media, like books, music and software. Patents exist to protect inventions, processes and objects, like scientific devices and unique products.
The following categories are allowed protection under copyright law.
To determine if your work is eligible for a copyright, visit the U.S. Copyright Office website.
A common website design mistake is not protecting your online content. Protect your intellectual property online using “copy and paste block” or “right-click block” in your website’s code. You can also protect images with a digital or graphic watermark.
Before you fill out the online application, disable your pop-up blocker and third-party toolbars in your browser (the government website recommends you use Firefox).
To register a copyright, you must submit three things to the Copyright Office:
Since your work must be reviewed for copyright approval, you should have either a digital file ready to attach or, if you’re submitting a hard copy, access to a printer for the shipping label.
It costs $65 to submit a standard copyright application. (There’s a $45 processing fee for a single author who is the sole claimant in a single work.) Paper filing costs $125 (request form copies on the website). Visit the U.S. Copyright Office fee schedule for a complete list of various fees for copyright registration and other services.
The two most common applications for copyright are the standard application and the single application. Ensure you’re filing the correct application type.
The online filing process is straightforward, and the U.S. Copyright Office website has excellent documentation if you encounter any issues. Start by creating an account and then follow the instructions provided.
Copyright registration protects your unique creations. The benefits of copyright registration include the following:
Employee contracts often include clauses that address the ownership of intellectual property. These agreements are crucial when employees are terminated and leave the company armed with proprietary knowledge.
Here are some common copyright questions.
According to the Copyright Alliance, since copyright protection is automatic from the moment you create your work, registration isn’t required to protect it. However, this is relatively meaningless because unregistered copyrights are not protected in a court of law. If someone steals your work and uses it, you can send them a letter telling them to stop. But if they refuse and the work is not registered with the Copyright Office, it’s your word against theirs, and it’s challenging to prove you’re the original creator.
The timeline for completing the registration process through the U.S. Copyright Office’s online registration system is about three months. However, the average processing time for hard-copy registrations is about 10 months. Your copyright registration becomes effective once the Copyright Office receives your completed application and appropriate fees. If you file electronically, you’ll receive an email confirming that your application has been received. If you submit a paper registration, you won’t receive confirmation from the Copyright Office, so be sure to ship your registration application with a carrier that provides a delivery record.
Copyrighted works are protected for the life of the creator plus 70 years.
Yes. Any original content on your website can be protected by copyright. This includes written content, like your business blog, artwork, photographs and other forms of authorship that are eligible for copyright. However, you can’t copyright domain names. If you have contracted a web developer, designer or photographer to create eligible original content for you under a “work for hire” arrangement, you can copyright it.
No, you can’t copyright your brand name, slogan, business name or logo. However, you may be able to protect these items with a trademark. Contact the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office at TrademarkAssistanceCenter@uspto.gov for more information.
If you run into a roadblock in the application process, call the Copyright Office at 877-476-0778 for help between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.
Jennifer Dublino contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.