By Jooyoung Koo, Esq.
I am a lifelong musician. Since I was five, playing the piano and composing pieces of music have always inspired me. Music has been my own form of self-expression, my way of bringing joy, great solace, and richness to others. Once I create something on sheets of paper, it is mine. So, why bother with copyright registration? What are the benefits of copyright registration?
As a musician and attorney, I hope to clear up the concept of copyright and help you decide whether copyright registration makes sense for you. It is only offered for informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. If you need to clarify something, please consult with a copyright attorney.
Q1: First of all, what is Copyright?
Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, pictorial, audiovisual and architectural works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished work.
Copyright generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:
– Make copies of the work
– Prepare derivative works based upon the work
- A “derivative work” is a new work but incorporates some previously published materials of a copyrighted work.  To be copyrightable, the derivative work must be different enough from the original to be regarded as a new work, or must contain a substantial amount of new material. Normally, translations, cinematic adaptions and musical arrangements are common types of derivative works.
– Distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or other means
– Perform the work publicly, including by means of digital audio transmission
Q2: What is NOT protected by Copyright?
Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These are:
– Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression. For example, dance that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded.
– Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; symbols or designs; mere variation of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; listings of ingredients or contents.
– Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation or illustration.
– Works containing no original authorship and consisting entirely of information that is common property such as calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures, or rulers.
Q3: Must I register my work to get copyright protections?
No. The 1976 Copyright Act says that registration is not a condition of copyright protection. No publication, registration, or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. Copyright automatically attaches as soon as original works of authorship are fixed in any tangible medium of expression, which means your creation is copyrighted as soon as you write them down or record them, whether they are in your notebook, digital file, blogs, or forum posts.
Q4: What are the advantages of registration?
The copyright law provides additional advantages/protections to encourage copyright owners to make registration. These are:
– Public notice of your ownership: Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim. Your work will be published in the Copyright Office’s Catalog and will be searchable to the public. In other words, it provides notice to everyone that you own the copyright, making it more difficult for infringers to argue that they infringed innocently.
– Ability to bring an infringement suit: Before you can sue someone in court for copyright infringement, you must register your work. Although a copyright holder has rights in a work, the rights, with limited exception, cannot be enforced through the courts unless the work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Without registration, you cannot bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement.
– Validity and legal evidence of ownership: Registration will demonstrate the validity of your copyright. Registration made before or within five years of publication will constitute strong evidence in court that the copyright is valid and that all the facts stated in the certificate of registration are true. In other words, it becomes the infringer’s burden to show that your copyright is invalid or you are not the owner.
– Maximize damages: Before the end of three months after the date of first publication or prior to an infringement of the work (or, in case of unpublished works, before the end of the first month after initially learning that your work was infringed), you must register your copyright to get the benefit of statutory damages and attorney’s fees. Without a timely registration, an award of actual damages and profits is only available to the copyright owner.
– Customs: 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. For more information, go to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. www.cbp.gov.
Q5: What are statutory damages?
When a person infringes your copyright, you are only entitled to actual damages and profits of the infringer that are attributable to the infringement. However, it may be difficult: how do you prove the profits that a random website made from publishing/posting your work without permission? How do you prove what sales you might have lost because of the website’s unauthorized publication of your work?
If you have registered your work, you get the option of electing statutory damages instead of actual damages and lost profits. This can be between $750 and $30,000 per work, or up to $150,000 per work if the infringement was intentional. You may also get attorney’s fees and costs at the court’s discretion, making it more likely that you can retain a lawyer on a contingency fee basis.
A contingency fee is a fee charged for a lawyer’s services only if the lawyer handles a case successfully. This means that the client is not charged with attorney’s fees if he loses the case.
Q6: So, when do I have to register?
Registration may be made at any time within the life of the copyright. Currently, the lifetime is the author’s life plus 70 years. However, time is of the essence. You should register your work as soon as possible after it is created. By doing so, you can take advantage of all the above benefits.
Q7: Okay, how do I register?
To register an original claim to Copyright, you must apply to the U.S. Copyright Office. Application for copyright registration contains three essential elements: 1) a completed application form, 2) a non-refundable filing fee, and 3) a non-returnable deposit of your work.
You can apply for copyright registration using a paper application or an online application. The U.S. Copyright Office states that online registration through the electronic Copyright Office is the preferred way to register basic claims for your work. Truly, online filing is much easier to track, faster to proceed, and cheaper than the traditional paper application. Currently, a filing fee is between $35 and $65 depending on a type of your work. For more information, please go to www.copyright.gov.
*Please see the “Legal Notice” regarding the information on this page.
© 2014 Jooyoung Koo
The Benefits of Copyright Registration by Jooyoung Koo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.copyright.gov.
 The American Bar Association, “Legal Fees and Expenses What are contingent fees?”, available at http://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_education/resources/law_issues_for_consumers/lawyerfees_contingent.html
 “How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?”, Revised: 10-Mar-2010, available at http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-duration.html
 Id. at 8.
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.