If your work is in a tangible form (e.g., recorded, taped, written down, or typed), it already has copyright protection, although certain exceptions apply (see the U.S. Copyright Office’s Copyright Basics, pp. 2-3 for details). It is not necessary to publish your work to gain copyright protection.
Although you have copyright protection as soon as your tangible work is created, registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office gives you several additional benefits (see Copyright Basics, p. 7). Most importantly, registering your work gives you much more legal leverage in suing entities who infringe on your copyright (e.g. publishing without your permission, stealing your work). You will be in the best possible legal position if you register as soon as possible.
You can find forms for registering different types of works at the U.S. Copyright Office’s Forms page. You will need to complete an application form, pay a filing fee, and deposit a copy (or copies) of your work with the Copyright Office. Although you can register for any copyright using paper forms, it is more cost effective and faster – often months faster! – to register electronically through the Electronic Copyright Office if your work is eligible for online submission.
Note: At the time of writing, the average time for filing online is 2.7 months and the average time for filing paper forms is 6.1 months. This average time varies, but you can check the most up-to-date processing times here.
For more information on copyright protection and registration detail, please see the Copyright Office’s Copyright Basics (see the U.S. Copyright Office’s Copyright Basics) circular.
Useful phone numbers:
- Copyright Public Information Office: (202) 707-3000 or (877) 4760778 (toll free)
- The Visual Arts Division: (202) 7078202
*Please see the “Legal Notice” regarding the information on this page.
This post represents the views of the author identified above and does not necessarily reflect the views of Washington Lawyers for the Arts (“WLA”). WLA provides this content as a public resource of general information. WLA does not warrant that the content is or will be complete and accurate. It is not intended by WLA, nor should it be considered by you, to be a source of legal advice. You should not rely upon the information provided. Rather, you should seek legal counsel for consultation and advice.