Note: Kelley Way and Dan Miller will offer a refresher on copyright law, when a use of copyrighted content may qualify as fair use, and how to get permission if fair use does not apply, on May 7.
Believe it or not, you do not need to register your work with the Copyright Office in order to have protection. You possess a copyright as soon as you complete any work that is copyrightable (such as a novel, painting, song, or video). However, it is still a very good idea to register your copyright, for the following three reasons:
- It puts the world on notice that you have a copyright and you want to protect it. The Copyright Office keeps a database of all registered copyrights, so someone can look up a book or song and see who the copyright belongs to. This means that anyone who does their homework knows that the work they’re borrowing from is copyrighted and permission is needed to use it. Additionally, it makes asking for permission much easier, assuming the copyright owner kept their contact information up to date.
- It’s required before you can sue someone. If you do find someone infringing on your copyright, you cannot file a lawsuit against them until your copyright is formally registered. In other words, you can’t set foot in a courtroom until that Copyright Certificate of Registration is in your hands. The registration process can take some time, so having it done beforehand speeds up the process if you need to get into a courtroom quickly.
- If your work was registered before the infringement started, you can get statutory damages. The idea here is that since the infringement started after you registered your copyright, the infringer must have known that they were infringing on your work. Since the infringement was deliberate, the court will punish them with extra fines, beyond the actual damage they did to your sales. This can make a big difference in how much you get awarded (assuming you win your lawsuit), so it’s a good idea to register your copyright shortly after your work hits the market.
There are other good reasons to register your copyright, but these are the big ones. Copyright registration is a pretty straightforward process, and relatively inexpensive, so there’s no reason not to register each work as it is published.
If you have questions about how the copyright registration process works, or if you would like help registering your copyright, please feel free to email me at [email protected].