How Do I Register a Copyright?

While U.S. trademark registration takes up the bulk of our Phoenix intellectual property law practice, lately my office is seeing more and more interest in copyright registration lately.  A common question I get from current and potential clients is, how much does it actually cost to register a copyright?

What does it even mean to “copyright” something anyway?

Before I answer the question posed in the title, it’s usually helpful to clear up some what it means to “copyright” something, whether it’s a poem, drawing, song, video you uploaded to YouTube or whatever.

Frankly, when someone says they want to “copyright” something, the phrase is basically meaningless from the legal standpoint. An owner’s copyright (i.e., the exclusive right to display, reproduce, perform, etc.) in a work they’ve created attaches as soon as it is “fixed” in a tangible form.  This is true regardless of whether the work is a novel, photograph, sculpture, sound recording, etc.  

When someone says they want to “copyright” something, what they are likely referring to is the act of registering the exclusive set of rights inherent in their particular work.

Am I required by law to copyright my work?

While there is no requirement to register your copyright, here in the United States anyway, if you are hoping to enforce your copyright against someone who you believe is infringing on your copyright in your work, then you are required to show that it is actually registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Registration also brings with it a host of legal advantages that just using the little “©” symbol alone doesn’t, such as:

  • Creating a public record of your ownership of the copyright (what we attorneys like to call “constructive notice”)
  • If registration is done either before publication or within five (5) years of publication, it becomes sufficient evidence of the copyright and the facts stated in the copyright certificate.
  • If registration is done within three (3) months of publication, or at any time prior to infringement of the work, you may seek statutory damages and attorney’s fees in federal court (without registration, you would only have the option of your actual damages and profits)

Keep in mind that when I use the word “publication” above, I’m using that term not in the traditional sense but under the meaning of Copyright Law.  Generally speaking, a work is considered published when it is made available to the public without any significant restrictions. 

But how much does Copyright registration actually cost?

The good news is that, in most cases, the registration filing fee here in the U.S. is substantially less than registering for a trademark or patent, with filing fees coming out to anywhere from $35 to $55 for each work applied for and assuming you are handling the registration process on your own.

For most works, the Copyright Office will charge $55 for the application. However, under certain circumstances, the registration fee can be as low as $35 for works that meet the following criteria:

  • the work has a single author
  • the author is also the owner
  • the application is for a single work (as opposed to, say, a series or collection), and
  • the work was not a “work made for hire”.

How do I register my Copyright in the United States?

Like with its sister intellectual property types, copyrights can be registered online by going to the Copyright Office’s website:  www.copyright.gov

There, you will need to create an online account, start a new copyright application (called a “claim”), complete the online form, and pay the Copyright Office filing fee using a credit card.  Lastly, you will upload a copy of your specific work that you are trying to register.

How long does it take to receive my Copyright registration?

Generally speaking, and depending on if the Copyright Office examiner requests additional or missing information from you, your approved registration certificate should arrive by mail within anywhere from two to eighteen months from the date of submittal.

How do I check the status of my Copyright application/claim online?

Unfortunately, unlike with the trademark or patent application process, there is as yet no capability to check the status of your copyright application online. (I suppose you get what you pay for!)

Should I use an attorney to handle my Copyright registration?

Like many things dealing with government approval, you are not required to have legal representation when filing a copyright registration application. 

Unless it is something really unique or complex, or that might be especially vulnerable to infringement later on, I often tell people to try and go through the online application themselves first and gauge their comfort level. 

Other authors, artists, programmers, etc. I’ve consulted with would rather have it done correctly the first time, or at least have someone who can deal with the Copyright Office in case an issue comes up, rather than do it on their own and possibly have to correct their registration later. 

Our Phoenix intellectual property firm assists authors, artists, and other creatives evaluate, register, and monetize their copyrightable works. In the majority of situations, our copyright registration service is done for a fixed- or flat fee. For more information on registering your copyright, feel free to contact me at the phone number or e-mail address below or use the contact form to the right.

Ben Bhandhusavee is the Managing Attorney for BHANDLAW, PLLC, a Phoenix business and technology law firm working with start-up companies, creative intellectual property, Internet and digital media matters, and complex corporate M&A and technology transactions.  Ben can be reached at (602) 222-5542 or by e-mail at bbhand@bhandlaw.com