Copyright Registration, Mandatory Deposit, and Preregistration

General Information

Any person who authors an original work (literary, musical, dramatic, pictorial, audiovisual, etc.) gains certain rights immediately upon fixation of the work (e.g., by writing it down, drawing it, recording it, taping it, etc.). The rights given to the author include the right to reproduce the work in copies, the right to sell or rent such copies, and the right to prepare derivative works (revisions, adaptations, etc.) based on the work. Commonly copyrighted articles include books and other writings, movies and other video recordings, songs and albums, photos, artwork, computer programs and source code, and architectural designs. Please see the separate article, “What is a Copyright?” for a basic overview of copyright features and more works that are commonly subject to copyright protection.

Purpose/Necessity

When a work is published, the copyright owner (or the owner of the exclusive right of publication) is required to deposit copies of the work in the Copyright Office within three months after the date of publication. The purpose of the mandatory deposit requirement is so that the Library of Congress can add to its collection of American creative authorship. Failure to do so may result in a fine of up to $250 for each work, the retail price for acquiring the work, and $2,500 for each willful or repeated refusal to deposit following a written demand from the Copyright Office. Copyright Act – Section 407. Failure to register a published work within three months after publication may prevent the copyright holder from obtaining statutory damages or attorney’s fees in an infringement action. Copyright Act – Section 412. A copyright owner may fulfill the mandatory deposit requirement and register the work with the Copyright Office simultaneously. Copyright Office FAQ – Mandatory Deposit.

For unpublished works, copyright registration is voluntary. Copyright Act – Section 408. Though the basic rights protected by the Copyright Act attach immediately upon creation of the work, it is difficult to prove first original creation and thereby ownership of a certain work without copyright registration. Furthermore, registration provides key legal and practical advantages over automatic rights:

  1. Before a copyright infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin. Copyright Act Section 411(a). The threat of legal action is often enough to stop would-be infringers from illegally copying and distributing the works of others. It also allows the copyright holder to request that infringers cease and desist their activities. The threat is idle unless copyright ownership can be demonstrated, most easily through registration.
  2. 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 are available to the copyright owner. Copyright Act Section 412. Statutory damages are between $750 and $30,000 for a single work infringed or up to $150,000 for a single work infringed willfully. Copyright Act Section 504(c). Attorney’s fees repay the plaintiff for the cost of asserting his or her legal rights. If registration is not timely made, or if the infringement occurred before registration, the copyright owner may only obtain actual damages in a legal action, which are often difficult if not impossible to prove and may require costly expert testimony.
  3. Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U.S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies.
  4. Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim. This allows others viewing the copyright records to contact the copyright owner for purchase or licensing of the work.
  5. The registrant is provided with a Certificate of Registration which demonstrates proof of filing and details of the copyright claim. The registration certificate is prima facie evidence in any judicial proceeding that the claims made in the registration certificate are true and that the copyright is valid. Copyright Act Section 410(c).

Preregistration is another filing option for copyright owners of works that have had a history of infringement before they are released. Copyright Act Section 408(f). More specifically, it is available for motion pictures, sound recordings, musical compositions, literary works being prepared for book publication, computer programs and video games, and advertising or marketing photos. A draft or early version of such works may be sent to the Copyright Office before publication and when such works are in the process of being prepared for commercial distribution. Though preregistration of such works is not required, it allows the copyright holder to bring an infringement action in which statutory damages and attorney’s fees are available even before the work’s full distribution or copyright registration. Copyright Office – Preregistration Information.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • May I apply for multiple copyrights?
    • Yes, though each work would require a separate application. It is common for an artist/author to obtain multiple copyrights. And in some cases, a single work may involve several types of copyright registrations (for example, a song recording and the underlining music constitute different works for which copyright is available). So long as a single copyright claimant owns all rights, all types may be registered in a single application for a single application fee.If you use our firm to complete your copyright registration(s), we will let you know whether multiple registrations are available for a single work. In addition, we are able to offer discounts for the registration of multiple works by a single author.
  • When is a work considered “published”?
    • By definition, a work is published when copies or phonorecords (CDs, mp3s, etc.) of a work are distributed to the public by sale, rental, lease, or lending. Offering to distribute copies for distribution, public performance, or public display also constitutes publication. A public performance or a public display of a work does not constitute publication. Copyright Act – Section 101. Generally, a work is published when copies are made available to the public, usually by being put on sale. Intentionally posting content on the internet generally constitutes publication.
  • How soon after I create a copyrightable work must it be registered?
    • For works created on or after January 1, 1978, registration may be made at any time during the term of protection/life of the copyright. Copyright Act Section 408(a). Works created by one author are protected for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. The person who has been assigned the copyright may register it after the author’s death.
  • How long does it take to register a copyright?
    • After the Copyright Office receives all required materials, it takes approximately 3 to 10 months for it to process the filing and provide the copyright owner with a Certificate of Registration. Copyright Office FAQ – Now What. Fortunately, however, the effective date of registration is the date the Copyright Office receives all required materials. Copyright Office – Circular 4: Copyright Office Fees.Processing time increases if there are questions associated with the application. Copyright Office FAQ – Registering a Work. “Unfortunately, registration is often delayed because of mistakes or omissions in completing copyright applications.” Copyright Office – Circular 14: Copyright Registration for Derivative Works. A work will not be issued if all required items are not properly completed and the filing fee is nonrefundable.If you use our firm to file your copyright registration, we complete as much of the process as possible online to cut down on the filing time and filing fees and allow for online status tracking. We ensure that all materials are included and all legal requirements have been met so that the work receives the earliest possible registration date and so the Copyright Office does not have to delay in processing the filing.
  • Will the Copyright Office return the works submitted for registration/deposit?
    • No. When registering a work, the copyright holder must submit a complete copy of the best edition of the work. this means a copy that represents the entire copyrightable content of the work in its highest quality or usual method of presentation. The benefits provided by copyright registration will not extend to any portions of the work not included in the registration or improperly described. The deposit copies are not returned.
  • Can my website be copyrighted?
    • Yes. All original content, including that which appears on a website, may be protected by copyright. Written text, photos, artwork, and the visual layout created by the site’s source code may be copyrighted if such elements are sufficiently original. Copyright Office FAQ – What Does Copyright Protect?. Domain names and other web addresses may not be copyrighted (as they are merely titles or names) but they may be trademarked to the extent that they indicate a source of goods or services. For more information on the scope of copyrights, please see our page on What is a Copyright?After investing a great deal of time and expense into a website, it is beneficially to formally register the site with the Copyright Office, especially if it contains unique and/or extensive material. The digital and somewhat anonymous nature of the internet makes it easy for others to plunder useful web content from other artists, rival businesses, etc. and pass it off as one’s own. Without a formal registration, it may be difficult to prove where the similar content first appeared, thereby indicating the author entitled to the copyright protection. Additionally, a request to remove infringing content or a threat of legal action will likely be ignored since no infringement suit may be brought until a copyright is registered.
  • Should I register a copyright in a work which contains secret or confidential information?
    • The copyright laws provide rights to the way in which an idea is expressed, not how such expressed ideas are used. Therefore, someone seeking to prevent others from copying or building upon their expressed ideas will not be protected by registration and deposit of original works alone (in some cases, a patent may protect the execution of such ideas, plans, methods, etc.).Copyright registrations and deposit copies become public records searchable by anyone either online or at the Copyright Office in Washington, D.C. Therefore, in general, trade secrets and confidential information should not be included within works submitted for registration.Potential workarounds are to submit the work with the confidential portions redacted so long as the revealed portions are enough to gain copyright protection. For example, a recipe could list “secret ingredient” and still attain copyright protection if included as part of a larger cookbook with instructions, illustrations, etc. In some cases, the Copyright Office does not require that the entire work be submitted. For example, usually only 50 pages of the source code of computer programs are required. See Copyright Office Circular 61: Copyright Registration for Computer Programs. In certain cases, the Copyright Office may be willing to register a work under its rule of doubt whereby the details of the work are included but authorship is not presumed.
  • If I register a copyright, do later/similar works get protected as well?
    • No. Basic copyright still attaches upon creation and fixation (e.g., being written down, recorded, etc.). But the benefits provided by copyright registration (described above) apply only to the particular work deposited for registration. There is no form of “blanket” protection to other earlier or later works, whether or not they are in the same series, relate to the same subject matter, etc. Copyright Office – Circular 40: Copyright Registration for Works of the Visual Arts.Derivative works, or works based on or derived from one or more existing works, may be separately registered if they contain a substantial amount of new material and are sufficiently creative in their own right. Copyright Office – Circular 14: Copyright Registration for Derivative Works. They do not gain any of the benefits of copyright registration merely for being derived from an existing work that has been registered.
  • What are “statutory damages”?
    • Statutory damages are an alternative form of relief available under the Copyright Act. In most lawsuits, actual damages must be proven, which often involves difficult questions of fact and additional legal work. The Copyright Act allows actual damages or statutory damages to be awarded. In some cases, a copyright holder may be upset that his or her work was infringed but there may be no actual damages.Statutory damages are an amount of damages immediately recoverable when infringement is proven. Plaintiffs who have statutory damages available to them need not show actual damage to receive up to the damage limits provided in the relevant statute. Alleged infringers may be more inclined to negotiate or settle out of court when statutory damages are obtainable. Statutory damages and attorney’s fees are only available to copyright holders who have registered their work(s).
  • How long does my copyright last?
    • Once a work is created and fixed in tangible form, it is automatically protected from the moment of its creation, regardless of when and whether it is registered with the Copyright Office. The normal period of copyright duration is the length of the author’s life plus 70 years after the author’s death. If the work was the product of two or more joint authors, the copyright lasts for 70 years following the last surviving author’s death.A work made for hire (e.g., a work made as part of an employer-employee relationship) is protected for 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is less. An anonymous or pseudonymous work (e.g., a work written by an author using an alias) also receives a copyright term of 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is less, but if the author’s identity is revealed the duration reverts to the length of the author’s life plus 70 years after the author’s death. Copyright Act Section 302.
  • What if the information provided in the copyright registration later changes?
    • The copyright holder is able to update the Copyright Office’s records to reflect such changes. This is beneficial because it allows those searching the copyright records to contact the current owner about purchasing or licensing the copyrighted work. One method is to record a document transferring ownership of a copyright (e.g., an assignment), which is then linked to the original registration, thereby providing proof of the new copyright owner. Another is to correct or amplify information in a registration through supplementary registration. See Copyright Office – Circular 8: Supplementary Copyright Registration.

Legal Services Offered and Cost

Copyright Registration Application
Note: this service will fulfill the mandatory deposit requirement for published works
Legal fees: $250 flat fee
Filing fees and other costs: $35 per single work. Copyright Office Fees.
This includes:

  1. Review of client’s information to confirm copyright ownership and eligibility for registration
  2. Verification of acceptable deposit copies for registration and/or mandatory deposit
  3. Answer client questions, make corrections, and obtain additional information as needed
  4. Completion and filing of federal copyright registration application and submission of appropriate filing fees with the Copyright Office
  5. Tracking of the copyright registration application and keeping client informed regarding its status
  6. Responding to questions and routine correspondence from the Copyright Office
  7. Email confirmation of registration with official Certificate of Registration upon receipt from the Copyright Office

If you are ready to get started, please CLICK HERE to enter basic information using our secure online form.

 

Copyright Preregistration Application
Note: this service is only applicable for drafts/early versions of still unpublished works of the following types: motion pictures, sound recordings, musical compositions, literary works being prepared for book publication, computer programs and video games, and advertising or marketing photos
Legal fees: $200 flat fee
Filing fees and other costs: $115 per work. Copyright Office Fees.

This includes:

  1. Review of client’s information to confirm copyright ownership and eligibility for preregistration
  2. Answer client questions, make corrections, and obtain additional information as needed
  3. Completion and filing of federal copyright preregistration application and submission of appropriate filing fees with the Copyright Office
  4. Tracking of the copyright preregistration application and keeping client informed regarding its status
  5. Responding to questions and routine correspondence from the Copyright Office
  6. Email confirmation of preregistration with official Notification of Preregistration upon receipt from the Copyright Office

If you are ready to get started, please CLICK HERE to enter basic information using our secure online form.

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