Attorney Steve® Copyright Essentials - Why you should ALWAYS register your copyrighted work.
Introduction - Why should I register my work with the U.S. Copyright Office?
In the case of Arista Records LLC v LimeWire LLC, LimeWire had committed copyright infringement that resulted in statutory damages valued at $1.4 billion. Despite this, the final settlement was $105 million. Registering your copyright grants one eligibility to compensation for such damages.
Not to be confused with patents or trademarks, copyrights protect an original work of authorship (https://www.vondranlegal.com/comprehensive-list-of-things-that-can-be-copyrighted). Anytime an original work is created, regardless of registration with the United States Copyright Office, its author immediately receives copyright protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution. This protection makes the reproduction, distribution, public display, and performance of the work by anyone other than its author illegal, again, regardless of registration. This registration has not been necessary for copyright protection since 1989. If copyrights already protect your work from the moment it was created, why should you register your work in the first place?
Benefits of Registering A Creative Work with the U.S. Copyright Office
The U.S. Copyright Office is not charged with enforcing copyright infringement law. Instead, it is an office that publicly records ownership of the exclusive rights to a work. Copyright infringement is a civil matter and it is the responsibility of the copyright owner to discover an infringement and pursue it in court.
Before an author can file an infringement lawsuit in a U.S. court, they must register their work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration can be made before, during, or after publication and/or an infringement, however no enforcement of copyrights through litigation will occur in the U.S. until a work has been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Even though you can register your work any time throughout the life of its copyright, there are valuable litigation resources and benefits that accompany having registered your work prior to an infringement. These benefits include:
Public Record of Ownership
- Eligibility for awards that cover statutory damages, attorneys' fees, and costs of the lawsuit.
- If you discover and pursue and infringement of your copyright to a work registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, you are eligible to receive compensation for any loss suffered as a result of the infringement, be it money or intangible assets. Statutory damages are on a per-work basis and can reach up to $150,000 per work infringed upon. Compensation for attorneys' fees and lawsuits will also be included in your award.
- Avoiding an “expedited registration” fee
- Filing a standard ownership claim usually costs $55, in some cases even cheaper, and takes about three months to be recorded. If you find yourself anticipating a lawsuit and need to fulfill the prerequisite registration in a shorter time in order to initiate a suit, you still can via an expedited registration process (https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-special.html). This option is accompanied by a “special handling” fee of $800 and recordation fee of $550.
- Recording a work in the U.S. Copyright Office database (https://www.copyright.gov/records/)
- When a work is registered, it is recorded in a public catalog viewable by everyone. Accessing and seeing your ownership of copyrights may deter potential infringers.
In order to receive any of the above benefits, you must have registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, at the latest, 3 months after the first publication of the work or 1 month after learning about an infringement (https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/412). You are not eligible for compensation for statutory damages if an infringement occurs outside of this window.
Prima facie evidence
As stated before, the U.S. Copyright Office is not charged with enforcing copyright infringement law. In an infringement suit, the burden is on the copyright owner to provide proof of ownership. This can be as simple as producing a copyright certificate if one has already registered the work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Otherwise, the plaintiff must provide proof that validates the date of the works creation during the prerequisite registration process.
International Copyright Protection
The United States holds membership in various, multilateral treaties (https://www.copyright.gov/international-issues/) regarding international copyright relations. About 200 countries hold membership in at least one of these treaties, which include the WIPO Copyright Treaty, the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty, and the Berne Convention. Because of this, many of the protections a copyright owner receives for their registered work extend outside of U.S. borders. Registration also allows the copyright owner to set up a record with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to prevent importation of copies that infringe upon their exclusive rights to their original work.
How does one register a claim to copyright?
A work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office as soon as it receives and accepts the three required components. These are: an application, a deposit (in the form of copies of the work), and a filing fee (standardly of $55). This process is as simple as filling out a registration form (https://www.copyright.gov/registration/) and submitting payment, which can be done online through the U.S. Copyright Office's online system. This process takes about three months when the application is submitted electronically but can take up to 10 months if submitted via hard copy. The exception to this would be an expedited registration, which is accompanied by a “special handling fee”, that can take 5-10 days and is usually only accepted during situations of pending or anticipated litigation.
Once the U.S. Copyright Office receives the three required components, the copyright has been registered. The owner will receive a certificate of registration, which includes information about the author and the work, however, when the owner receives this certificate is irrelevant to its recognition in the U.S. Copyright Office's public records.
Don't forget, the ability to assign (sell) or LICENSE your copyrighted work for profit!!!
Copyright generally lasts for the life of the author plus 75 years. This means, with a simple registration of a quality creative work can set your family up for life. You can sell or license the photo, image, video, illustration, jewelry, fashion design, software, or computer font for $$$. EVERY COPYRIGHT OWN GETS A BUNDLE OF RIGHTS. Each one can be INDIVIDUALLY LICENSED (ex. the right to make a derivate work such as turning a book into a movie), or the right to publicly perform (like turning a screenplay into a theater play), the right to make copies, to publicly display the copyrighted work, and the right to distribute. You can license these and sue for each of these EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS every copyright holder enjoys.
We represent Plaintiffs and Defendants in federal copyright infringement litigation and we can also help with copyright licensing, assignments, and work for hire agreements.
Do not trust your "bet the farm" case to a family law firm, estate planning or even DUI defense law firm or a firm that lacks copyright law experience. Call the IP specialists. We are a boutique intellectual property law firm representing copyright litigants in federal court in California, Arizona, Texas and New York (and other states) where we can be admitted into the local federal courts.
Every author receives the protection of copyright laws for their original works, however, those proactive authors who establish ownership with the U.S. Copyright Office are granted many litigation advantages in the case that their copyrights be infringed upon. The U.S. Copyright Office strongly advises that authors register their works, as the potential monetary awards to compensate for the statutory damages, attorneys' fees, and costs greatly outweigh the small fee to register. Registering your work and publicly recording your ownership, adds great value to your copyrights and offers immense aid should a time come they must be enforced, assigned or licensed for profit.
For more information, call us at (877) 276-5084 or fill out the contact form.
This blog was written by Chris Gonzales, University of Arizona law clerk.