Why You Should Register Your Copyright

Copyright © 2002 Tonya M. Evans, Esquire. This article may not be copied or distributed without the consent of the author.

DISCLAIMER: The authors are not engaged in rendering legal or other professional services as a result of the information contained in this article, and this article is not meant to constitute legal or other professional advice. If legal or other professional assistance is required, the services of an attorney should be sought.

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SOURCE: Copyright Office publications.

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

  • To reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;

  • To prepare derivative works based upon the work;

  • To distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;

  • To perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;

  • To display the copyrighted work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work; and

  • In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

While your copyright exists from the moment your work is "fixed in a tangible form" (i.e., written or recorded), you should register your copyright with the Copyright Office. Copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright. The copyright law provides several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners to make registration.

Among these advantages are the following:

  1. Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.

  2. You must register before an infringement suit may be filed in court.

  3. If made before or within 5 years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.

  4. If registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney's fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner. As a practical matter, it is often very difficult to prove actual damages, thus statutory damages and attorneys fees are a very valuable benefit to registration.

  5. Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U. S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies.

We advise our clients on all aspects of copyright law, including copyright registration, clearances and infringement issues. We also provide legal vetting of manuscripts on behalf of authors to ascertain potential infringement issues.

Use our service, Register Right™, to register your copyrights today.


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Excerpt from Literary Law Guide for Authors: Copyright, Trademark, and Contracts in Plain Language 
by Attorneys Tonya Marie Evans and Susan Borden Evans

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