Copyright Registration: Procedures and Benefits

Copyrights, governed by the United States Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101-810, protect an author’s original works, such as books, art, motion pictures, and sound recordings. According to 17 U.S.C. § 106, copyright owners have the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, and produce derivative works of the original copyrighted material.

Although, creators of original works own a copyright regardless of whether they choose to register the copyright, the owner can only protect this right by registering the copyright. Pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 408, the creator of an original work may apply for copyright registration with the United States Copyright Office. To register a work with the United States Copyright Office, owners must submit a completed application form, a filing fee, and a copy of the respective work. The U.S. Copyright Office provides a registration guide that outlines the basic information regarding copyright registration. In certain instances, it may be possible to complete the registration process online. The U.S. Copyright Office will issue a registration certificate that delineates the copyrighted work. The certificate is effective from the date the Copyright Office receives the completed and required information.

There are certain benefits to registering a copyright. Most obviously, registering a copyright creates a verifiable record of the original work. In the case of a legal claim for copyright infringement, there is an official government account of the copyright’s ownership. Indeed, 17 U.S.C. § 411 requires that a copyright owner register the copyright before bringing a civil suit for infringement.

Furthermore, with a registered copyright, an owner proves a case for copyright infringement on its face in legal proceedings. This prima facie showing of the elements of copyright infringement greatly simplifies the requirements for proof in court. In essence, by registering a copyright, the original owner shifts the burden of proof to the infringer to show that the questionable use of the underlying work was lawful. Otherwise, the owner would bear the burden of proving original ownership of the underlying work in order to demonstrate that the subsequent use was copyright infringement. This is certainly a much more complicated claim to prove. In addition, courts may award damages of up to $150,000, along with attorney’s fees, if the original owner registered the copyright at issue within three months before bringing suit.

The registering of a copyright with the Copyright Office also provides protection in foreign markets. The United States has agreements with foreign countries to honor registered copyrights. Therefore, a copyright registered in the United States is also honored in other countries. This provides broader protection of the copyrighted work and allows a larger pool of benefits for use of registered, copyrighted works.