Copyright Law Basics

Title 17 of the United States Code provides copyright protection to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.  The law covers both published and non-published works and gives the owner of the copyright certain exclusive rights such as to reproduce, to distribute, and to publicly perform.  These rights attach the moment the work is authored even when specific copyright protection via registration is not sought.  It should be noted, however, that when a work is made for hire the employer is considered to be the author under law and not the employee. 

Even though copyright protection via registration is not required, there are advantages to registering such as the following noted by the US Copyright Office:

  • Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
  • Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin.
  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U.S. Customs Servicew for protection against the importation of infringing copies. 

The basic registration of a copyright is fairly simple and requires three steps:

  1. Completing the application form (available on the US Copyright Office website)
  2. Attaching the filing fee - currently $30 - for each application
  3. Attaching two complete copies of the work if it published in the US on or after 01/01/1978

Mailed to: 

Library of Congress
Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

However, there are many variations to the simple procedure identified above and you should consult the US Copyright Office website or your Intellectual Property Attorney for more details pertaining to your particular situation. 

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