Ballpark Estimate: $35 to register a copyright online; $45 to submit a hard copy
If you’ve created an original work of literature, music or art, American law provides a copyright that prohibits others from stealing it and presenting it as their own. A copyright protects your legal ownership of original work you develop so that no one else can copy your creation in its exact form. This status automatically exists from the moment your work is tangible, and there is no need to file to request a copyright. There are, however, some benefits to formally registering your work with the federal government’s Copyright Office. The main advantage to taking this extra step is that if you ever need to take someone to court for violating your copyright, it will greatly help your case to have this protection officially recorded.
Who Needs a Copyright
You can copyright many types of works, including: literary, musical and dramatic efforts, as well as pantomimes, motion pictures, choreography, photographs, and other forms of art, graphics and sculptural work. Further, both published and unpublished works are protected under the copyright laws. If you register a copyright for an unpublished work that later becomes published, you are not required need to refile your copyright. The work continues to be protected under your original application, although you may register an updated copyright for the latest edition, if you so desire.
Benefits of Registering
You don’t have to register a copyright, since one already exists on your work right from the outset of your creation. But if you do decide to register, this makes your copyright public information and provides you with a certificate that serves as proof of your ownership. In addition, if a registered copyright is violated and you are able to prove it, you may be entitled to collect damages and to also have your attorney’s fees reimbursed.
Your Exclusive Rights
With a copyright, you hold the exclusive rights to your work. With this right, you can reproduce the work (such as by making photocopies, print runs and recordings), produce other work based on your original idea or theme, distribute or sell your work, display it publicly or perform it publicly. A copyright also allows you to give permission to others to do any of these things with your work.
What Isn’t Protected
While many works are protected under the federal copyright laws, there are some items that do not qualify for this status. These include improvised works that haven’t been written or recorded (such as an impromptu speech), titles, short phrases and slogans, ideas, principles and discoveries and work that is made up of only common information without anything original being added (such as calendars, rulers and height charts).
Changes in Copyright Law
In the past, the law required Cost To Register A Copyrightpeople to use the copyright symbol on their work to indicate this status. (This is done with the symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright.”) In addition, the date of the work and the author was included. (Such as: © 2000 Jerry Jones). Changes to the law in 1989 eliminated this requirement. However, some legal experts recommend that people do this anyway, since it lets others know that the work is protected and tells who the owner is and when he or she created the item in question. You do not need permission from the Copyright Office to include this information on your creation and it does not cost anything to do this. Anyone can use this copyright information on their own work.
It is also important to note that while literary and other fixed pieces of work use the copyright symbol, for sound recordings, a “p” in a circle is substituted instead.
There are some requirements as to how this information should appear and where. Generally, it must be in a position on a document, book or recording that can be easily seen and read. But for more information about the specifics, you should check with the Federal Copyright Office.
How Long a Copyright Lasts
If you have a copyright, the law provides that you retain all rights your work for your lifetime, PLUS an additional 70 years. (Older works that were produced before 1978 are protected a little differently, so check with the Copyright Office if you have a piece of work created before then.)
If you are the author of an item, generally you will automatically receive the copyright protection on it. However, it is important to point out that if you sign a work-for-hire agreement and under those terms create something for a company, you forfeit your rights and the company is considered the author and the owner of the copyright.
The same thing holds if you contribute to a collective work, unless the work is such that each separate contribution can be distinguished and copyrighted individually and not only as part of the total product. It is also worth noting that owning a book, manuscript, painting or other work doesn’t automatically give the copyright if you aren’t the original creator. But that copyright can be legally transferred in some cases.
Transferring a Copyright
To transfer a copyright you must put your intent in writing. Since a copyright is a personal property right, it is governed by the laws of your state so you may want to consult with an attorney on how to do this officially. You can also transfer a copyright in your will. You are not required to record such a transfer with the Copyright Office, but doing so will help protect you if any disputes over the transfer should arise.
What It Costs to Register a Copyright
To register a work with the Copyright Office, you need to send an application form, a filing fee and two copies of the work being registered. As many as 600,000 or more applications for copyrights are submitted annually, so you will not receive any type of confirmation of your request. A copy of the accepted registration will be sent for your records when it is approved. (Or in the case your application is denied, a letter explaining why your request was denied.) The processing time for the reply can vary a great deal.
You can apply to register your copyright electronically for a fee of $35.
You can also submit a hard application to register a copyright for a fee of $45.
Your registered copyright goes into effect on the date the Copyright Office receives a complete application.
You can fill in the Copyright application forms online right through the Copyright Office website. The Copyright Public Information Office also has staff members available during the week from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. to answer questions over the phone at (202) 707-6737. Standard information about copyrights is also available 24 hours a day through a recorded line at that number.
To request application forms and information brochures, you can call the Forms and Publications Hotline at (202) 707-9100.
In addition, for people in the Washington, DC area, you can visit the Copyright Public Information Office, Library of Congress, James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Avenue SE., Washington, D.C. 20559-6000.
You can also write to this address to request further information by mail.