Overview of Current U.S. Copyright Registration Procedure

1. Select Method of Registration: Paper or Electronic.

2. Select Proper Form: If filing by paper, you must call the Copyright Office at (202) 707-3000 and request that they mail you the proper form – Form TX (literary works); Form VA (visual arts works); Form PA (performing arts works, including motion pictures); Form SR (sound recordings); and Form SE (single serials). If filing electronically, access eCO by going to the U.S. Copyright Office website and clicking on “electronic Copyright Office.”

3. Complete Application: The application may be completed by the author, the copyright claimant, the owner of exclusive right(s) or the authorized agent of such author, other copyright claimant or owner of exclusive right(s). Under certain circumstances, multiple works can be registered with one application and one fee. See Amy’s blog post here for an example.

4. Pay Fees: Effective August 1, 2009, registration fees for basic claims are $65 for paper filings and $35 for eCO filings. Basic claims include (1) a single work; (2) multiple unpublished works if they are all by the same author(s) and owned by the same claimant; and (3) multiple published works if they are all first published together in the same publication on the same date and owned by the same claimant.

The method of accepted payment varies based on the type of filing.

5. Submit Deposit: Pay special attention to the deposit requirements as they vary based on the type of work being registered. Generally, unpublished works and works first published outside of the U.S. require a deposit of one complete copy or phonorecord. Works first published in the U.S. on or after January 1, 1978 require two complete copies or phonorecords of the “best edition.”

The Copyright Office has interpreted this to mean that eCO filers may still need to mail in a hard copy or copies to comply with the “best edition” language of the Copyright Act. For example, if you are applying for registration of a published CD on eCO, you must currently mail in hard copies of the CD as the actual CD is considered the “best edition” of the published work (not the electronically uploaded files). You must print out a shipping slip from the eCO website to accompany such deposit.

6. Receipt of Registration Certificate: The Copyright Office website states that 90% of electronic (eCO) filers should receive a certificate with 6 months of completing their application and paper filers within 18 months. Regardless of the time needed to process the application, the effective date of registration is the date that the Copyright Office receives all required elements in acceptable form. Therefore, it is very important to read all instructions on the application to make sure you are submitting the application, fees, and deposit in the manner indicated, which is always subject to change. Once you receive your registration certificate, be sure to keep it in a safe place.

Advantages of Copyright Registration

While copyright registration is not a condition of copyright protection, there are certain advantages to registering your copyrights with the Copyright Office.

1. You Can Sue: Registration is a prerequisite to filing an infringement suit in court for works of U.S. origin. In other words, if you discover that someone is infringing your copyright, you will need a registration certificate to file a copyright infringement lawsuit against the offender.

2. You Might Get Big Money and Cover Your Legal Fees: If registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages, and attorneys’ fees will be available to the copyright owner. Otherwise, the copyright owner may only obtain an award of actual damages and/or profits of the infringing party.

Note: If you do not have money on hand to retain a copyright litigation attorney, registration within the time frame above may well determine whether or not you can find an attorney who will take on the case because a copyright litigation attorney may only agree to take on cases for which there is a reasonable expectation of receiving attorneys’ fees on the backend.

3. Good Evidence: Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim, and, if made before or within 5 years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright.

4. Protect Against Counterfeit Goods: Registrations may be recorded with the U.S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies. For more information, go to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website and click on “Intellectual Property Rights.”

Please note that it is NOT necessary for an attorney to file for registration of copyrights.