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How To Copyright - How To Register a Copyright


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Creating a piece of work - whether it's a poem, a computer program, or a motion picture - requires significant time and effort on the part of the author. The moment a work is created it is protected by U. S. copyright law, ensuring that the creator has exclusive control over the work unless he has signed over all copyrights to another party.

While copyright is established from the moment a work is created, that copyright doesn't fully protect you against theft and infringement of your work. To ensure you have maximum protection, you must register your work with the U. S. Copyright Office.

Before you can register your work, however, you must ensure that it is copyrightable under the law. Those works that can be copyrighted include literary; musical; dramatic; pictorial, graphic, and sculptural; architectural, choreographic, and audiovisual works as well as sound recordings, motion pictures, and pantomimes.

When you register a copyright with the U. S. Copyright Office, your copyrighted work becomes a matter of public record, and registration gives you the ability to bring legal action against anyone who steals or infringes upon your copyright. Registering a copyright may also make you eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees should you have to file suit against the offending party.

Registering a copyright is actually quite simple and requires only three simple steps:

Step One: Fill out an application form

Go to the U. S. Copyright Office and download a copyright application form. You can find them on the Web by searching for “Copyright Office". You can also fill out the form online. Be sure to fill out the application fully and accurately. Failing to completely fill out the application form will result in your application being returned.

Step Two: Pay the application fee

Enclose the appropriate nonrefundable filing fee. Currently, the fee for filing your copyright application online is $35. If you submit a paper copyright application, you'll be required to file a $45 application fee.

Step Three: Prepare your nonreturnable deposit

Prepare a copy, which is referred to as a nonreturnable deposit by the U. S. Copyright Office, of the work you want to register. You must adhere to the following general requirements when sending a copy of your work:

  • For those works that were created prior to January 1, 1978, you must send two complete copies or phonorecords of your work as it was when it was first published in the U. S.

  • For those works that were created in the U. S. on or after January 1, 1978, the U. S. Copyright Office requires two copies or phonorecords of the best edition.

  • For those works that were not created in the United States, you must send a complete phonorecord or copy of the work as it was originally published.

    Requirements - Special Deposits

    There are some special deposit requirements of which you should be aware. Some of the most prevalent special deposit requirements are as follows:

  • If you've created a work - literary, musical, or dramatic - that has only been recorded as a phonorecord, you must send the complete phonorecord.

  • If you're applying for a copyright for either a published or unpublished computer program, you are required to send the first and last 25 pages of source code for the program. If your program is less than 50 pages, you must send the complete program.

    If you're uncertain if your work requires a special deposit, the U. S. Copyright Office encourages you to write (address below) or call (202) 707-3000 and provide a description of your work Monday through Friday between 8:30 a. m. and 5:00 p. m. EST.

    All three items - a complete application, the appropriate application fee, and a copy of the work you want to register - should be mailed in the same package. The only exception is if you opt to fill out an online application. If you're applying for separate copyrights, you should also send all of the relevant material in the same package, ensuring that you separately attach the application fee to each corresponding application.

    Failure to send the required materials together will generally result in the materials being returned to you. When your package is complete, send it to the U. S. Copyright Office at:

    Library of Congress
    Copyright Office
    101 Independence Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC 20559-6000

    Learn more about how to copyright , and how to use the copyright sign .

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