Like trademarks, registration is not required to enjoy legal protection in a copyrightable work. A copyright is obtained automatically by the author as soon as some creative form of expression is fixed in a tangible medium. However, there are some significant benefits of registering your work with the United States Copyright Office. These benefits include:
1. Public notice of your ownership. Your work will be published in the Copyright Office’s Catalog and will be searchable to the public. Anybody thinking of using this work will be able to search this Catalog and see that your work is protected. This gives constructive notice to the public that you own the work and helps defeat claims of “innocent infringement.”
2. Legal evidence of ownership. If somebody takes your work, registration will avoid a costly dispute over the actual ownership. Your copyright registration will provide proof of your ownership and relieve you of this legal burden.
3. Validity. Your registration will demonstrate the validity of your copyright if it is registered within five years of publication. This can prevent future challenges to your rights in the work.
4. Maximization of damages. Without a timely registration, a copyright holder is limited to actual damages in the case of infringement. These can be nominal and/or difficult to prove. With a registration, the copyright holder is entitled to statutory damages and attorneys’ fees. Rather than having to prove actual damages, a copyright holder with a timely registration may be eligible for statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement, plus attorneys’ fees. However, to claim these damages, the registration must be made within three months of the work’s publication or before the infringement occurs. Therefore, time is of the essence.
5. Ability to bring an infringement suit. Perhaps the most important benefit. Even though a copyright holder has rights in a work, those rights, with limited exception, cannot be enforced through the courts unless the work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Without registration, a copyright holder cannot bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement.
It makes the most sense to register a work as quickly as possible after it is created. By doing so, a copyright holder can take advantage of all the above benefits, including the provisions on statutory damages and attorneys’ fees. Currently, the typical filing fee for a copyright registration is only $35. If you have questions about registering a copyright, or are ready to register your work, contact one of our attorneys to walk you through the process.