Need to protect your work? See our step-by-step guide to applying for a copyright.
If you want to protect your ideas and prevent them from being replicated or stolen, you're probably considering applying for a copyright. Luckily for you, the process is easy and doesn't even require tearing yourself away from the internet.
Step 1: Make sure your work is eligible.
Not just anything can be copyrighted, and a lot of people get 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.
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 popup blocker as well as any third-party toolbars in your browser (the government website recommends you use Firefox). You should also make sure your method of payment is readily available, as there is up to a $55 processing fee ($35 for a single author who is the sole claimant in a single work). Since your work must be reviewed for copyright approval, you should either have a digital file at the ready to attach or have access to a printer for the shipping label if you're submitting a hard copy.
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 these are the definitions the copyright office provides:
- 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 compilation.
- 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 if you run into any snags, but the filing process is straightforward. Start the process by signing up for an account and then follow the instructions provided. Keep in mind that it may take upward of three months to hear back on your copyright status. If you run into a real snag, you can call for help at 877-476-0778 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday.
Note: 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 find copies of the paper forms to print out on Copyright.gov. The fee for a basic registration using the purely paper method will cost you $85.