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©2018, Melissa C. Marsh.
Written: 3/1/2001  
By: Melissa C. Marsh

Introduction To Copyright Registration

The U.S. copyright laws require the owner of a copyright to register a copyright with the United States Copyright Office before the owner can seek a court order to stop someone from infringing their copyright protected work and before the owner can ask customs to prevent the illegal importation of a copy. Your copyright registration takes effect as soon as the Copyright Office receives all of the required items in an acceptable form, even if it takes a long time for the application to be processed.

The Copyright Registration Procedure

The copyright registration procedure is not very time consuming, complex or costly but it does require the applicant take the time to correctly complete the appropriate copyright registration form, pay a nonrefundable fee that is presently $30 for each copyright application, and send a deposit copy or two copies (in the case of phonorecords and published works) of the work to the Copyright Office. The copy of your work (which the government calls a "deposit") is not returnable. It will belong to the Library of Congress. The application, fee and your deposit must be sent in the same envelope or package. If you are registering more than one work, each work must have its own application and filing fee, and the Copyright Office prefers to have them all requests in the same envelope. If you fail to enclose all the required items, your application will be returned.

As the Copyright Office does not send a notice stating that the Copyright Office has received your copyright application, it is a good idea to send you application by registered or certified mail with a return receipt requested. This will provide you with the day the package was received.

Once the Copyright Office has approved the copyright registration application, the copyright owner will receive a Certificate of Registration. The copyright registration process usually takes from six months to one year, but in an emergency, such as pending litigation, an expedited registration process that requires special fees can be utilized.

Special Deposit Requirements For Copyright Applications

Some kinds of works have special deposit requirements. For example, registration of a computer program, whether published or not, requires you to deposit one copy in source code (print-out). If your program is fewer than fifty pages, you must deposit a print-out of the entire program. If your source code exceeds 50 pages, you must send the first twenty-five pages of the program and the last twenty-five pages. Additional rules exist for deposits in CD-ROM format.

Other special deposit requirements exist for: movies, literary, dramatic, or musical work published only as a phonorecord, works formatted on a CD-ROM, three dimensions works of art, two dimensional works of art (e.g. greeting cards or fabric patterns), oversized items, video games, automated databases, contributions to collective works, and serial works.

What Can Be Registered?

Both published and unpublished works can be registered with the Copyright Office. As a general rule, all published works should be immediately registered upon their publication. If the work is unpublished (has not been seen or heard by the general public), then the decision to register will largely depend on whether the copyright owner intends to publish the work, the value of the work, and the likelihood someone will copy it. If in doubt, register the work. Copyright registration is a simple and inexpensive process.

What Copyright Form Do I Use?

Copyright registration forms may be obtained from the Copyright Office. The type of work being registered will determine which copyright registration form is required. For example, the TX form is used for published and unpublished non-dramatic literary works such as books and computer programs; the PA form is used for published and unpublished works that will be performed before an audience such as plays and screenplays; the SE form is used to register serial publications such as magazines, newspapers, journals and newsletters; the VA form is used for registering pictorial, graphic and sculptural works such as artwork and photographs; and the SR form is used for sound recordings such as tapes and CDs.

Strongly Consider Hiring An Attorney To Register Your First Copyright

Although a copyright owner may register the copyrighted work on their own, we strongly recommend all copyright owners use an attorney to prepare the initial application, because tiny mistakes can be made and often are and go unnoticed even by the Copyright Office. IF this happens, some mistakes can invalidate your copyright registration and inevitably your copyright protection. If, however, this is too costly or not possible, then at least employ an attorney to review your completed application to verify it has been completed correctly.

Should you the copyright owner decide to proceed on your own, read the instructions slowly and carefully to avoid what may turn out to be a costly or deadly mistake. If you are unsure about any particular aspect of the form, contact an attorney for verification. Many of the questions asked seem simple and straightforward, but often are not. Again read the instructions carefully, and if you unsure about any particular aspect contact and attorney. You can access the corpyright registration forms at the U.S. Copyright Office Forms

Copyright 1999-2018 Melissa C. Marsh. All Rights Reserved. All Information on this website is subject to a Disclaimer and Use Agreement. This information is provided as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. We advise you to seek the advice of competent legal counsel to address your own specific questions, facts and circumstances.

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© Copyright 1999-2018 Melissa C. Marsh. All Rights Reserved