If you want to protect your ideas and prevent them from being replicated or stolen, you're probably considering applying for a copyright. Registering for a copyright, according to LegalZoom, creates a "record of your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration is not required, but registering a copyright can have important advantages, including allowing you to sue others for copyright infringement."
Can you claim copyright without registering?
According to the Copyright Alliance, since copyright protection is automatic from the moment you create your work, registration isn't required to protect it. Because of the benefits registering for copyright can provide, it's highly recommended to do so if you can. Here are four benefits of copyright registration:
- Allows you to bring an infringement action: By registering your copyright, you can file a lawsuit to protect your intellectual property in federal court. You have to file a for copyright registration before you can bring a copyright lawsuit.
- Provides evidence of validity: This may seem obvious, but registering for a copyright also provides evidence that you truly hold the copyright for a given piece of intellectual property. Filing your registration before or within five years of publishing your work will help you in the event that you need to bring a copyright infringement lawsuit to court. Your registration satisfies a basic level of proof to the court of the validity of your copyright.
- Enables you to claim statutory damages and attorney's fees: Copyright registration also enables you to claim statutory damages and attorney's fees in a copyright infringement case.
- Creates a public record: Copyright registration notifies the world that your work is indeed copyrighted and that you own the copyright. Copyrighted works are protected for the life of the creator plus 70 years.
Luckily, the process for registering and applying for a copyright is easy and doesn't even require tearing yourself away from the internet. The steps for copyright registration are listed below.
Step 1: Make sure your work is eligible.
Not just anything can be copyrighted, and many people are confused about the difference between a copyright and a patent. Copyrights exist to protect created work and media, like books, music, and software. Patents exist to protect inventions, processes, and objects, like scientific devices or unique consumer products.
What is eligible for copyright?
The following types of work are allowed protection under copyright law.
- Literary works: Literary works are both fiction and non-fiction novels, short stories, poems, essays, articles, advertisements, catalogs and speeches. Computer programs are also considered literary works under copyright law.
- Musical works: The entirety of a musical composition, including the notes and any associated lyrics, are considered protected under copyright law.
- Dramatic works: Dramatic works of theater, including plays, operas, scripts and screenplays, along with all associated music, are protected under copyeright law.
- Pantomimes and choreographic works: Choreography is protected under copyright law, but popular dance steps are considered public domain.
- Pictorial, graphics and sculptural works: A wide range of visual artistic works are considered covered under copyright law, incuding but not limited to: sketches; drawings; paintings; photos; maps; charts; sculptures; jewelry; models; and tapestries.
- Motion pictures and other audiovisual works: Movies, short films, and videos are all eligible for copyright.
- Sound recordings: Audio recordings, including music, voice and sound effects, are eligible for copyright protection. Additionally, natural sounds and animal noises could be copyrighted by the person who recorded them.
- Compilations: A collection of copyrighted materials can be copyrighted itself as a whole collection. However, a compilation copyright does not extend to the individual works included within the compilation; just the compilation as a whole is considered protected.
- Derivative works: Derivative works, those based on another copyrighted work but altered by some element of creativity, are eligible for copyright protection.
- Architectural works: Under the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act of 1990, entire buildings are available for copyright, not just the architectural plans.
To find out if your work is eligible for a copyright, check out categories and examples on the government registration portal.
Step 2: Get the stuff you need.
Before you fill out the online application, disable your pop-up blocker as well as any 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:
- A completed application form
- The filing/registration fee
- Copies of the work you're registering
Since your work must be reviewed for copyright approval, you should have either a digital file at the ready to attach or, if you're submitting a hard copy, access to a printer for the shipping label.
How much does it cost to get a copyright?
There is a processing fee for submitting a copyright application of up to $55. (There's a $35 processing fee for a single author who is the sole claimant in a single work.) Here's the complete list of fees for copyright registration, optional services and other services.
You can also use the traditional post office method if you so choose – or you can file online but then submit a hard copy of your work through the mail. You can request copies of the paper forms on Copyright.gov. The fee for a basic registration using the purely paper method will cost you $85.
Step 3: Choose the right application type.
The two most common applications for copyright are the standard application and the single application. There are videos detailing the step-by-step process for each application, and the Copyright Office defines each application as follows:
- Standard: The standard application may be used to register most works, including a work by one author, a joint work, a work made for hire, a derivative work, a collective work or a competition.
- Single: The single application may be used to register one work (such as one poem, one song or one photograph) created by one individual.
Step 4: File.
Copyright.gov has great documentation should you run into any snags, but the filing process is pretty straightforward. Start by creating an account, and then follow the instructions provided.
How long does it take to get a copyright?
The timeline for completing the registration process through the U.S. Copyright Office's online registration system is about three months. The average processing time for hard-copy registrations, however, 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 choose to 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 record of delivery.
If you run into a real hurdle in the application process, you can call the Copyright Office at 877-476-0778 for help between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday.
Mona Bushnell contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.