A copyright is automatically created upon the completion of an original work of authorship that is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. While an automatic copyright protects that work, a formal registration of copyrighted materials within three months of release to the general public provides extra benefits that can prove extremely valuable to the owner. These benefits serve to not only protect the copyrighted work, but also to provide additional remedies for the author in the event of infringement. Registering a copyright is as simple as submitting an application to the United States Copyright Office with a minimal filing fee and a copy of the copyrighted material. Then, once the work is registered, the benefits begin immediately.
The first benefit of a copyright is intangible—the work becomes a matter of public record, making it easy to find and verify as an existing, copyrighted work. This serves to protect the work while also making it easier for the creator to profit from the work. If someone wants to use the copyrighted material, they can easily track down, notify, and pay the creator. Registering the copyright as a public record helps the holder to avoid costly litigation, since potential licensors may find the owner. Even though this benefit occurs before an infringement, registration within three months of creation also provides benefits that apply after an infringement occurs.
If an author believes that a copyrighted work has been infringed, and the work was registered, then the author has already completed the first steps toward bringing a lawsuit for infringement. A copyright infringement lawsuit requires the copyright to be registered. By applying for registration prior to the infringement or within three months of publication, the author may be entitled to statutory damages and attorney’s fees. Registration of a copyright provides the groundwork for the legal claim of infringement by proving ownership of the work. Proving ownership can often be difficult and a valid registration is essential to a claim for copyright infringement. Moreover, the registration defeats the defendant’s defense of being an “innocent infringer,” or the “I didn't know I was infringing" defense. Copyright registration also provides for statutory damages that can range from $750-$30,000 for each infringement, and even more in cases of willful infringement. The author may be entitled to attorney’s fees as well. Registration of a work can help the author avoid costly litigation, can make it easier for potential users of the work to find and pay the author to use the work, and is essential for infringement claims. Copyright vests immediately upon creation of a work, but registration of copyright give authors meaningful protection under the law.
Registering a copyright is simple and only requires three essential elements: (1) a completed application form, (2) a filing fee, and (3) a copy of the work being registered. We encourage all content creators, including authors, producers, businesses, musicians, filmmakers, organizations, photographers, and freelancers to register all of their copyrighted materials to take advantage of the benefits that registration provides.