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Copyright Registration Basics

In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright. However, registration is not a condition of copyright protection. Your manuscript, painting, music, anything you’ve created, is fully protected by copyright law from the moment you created it - even if you don’t file for a copyright registration. Even though registration is not a requirement for protection, the copyright law provides several advantages to encourage copyright owners to make registration.

Among these advantages are the following:

  • Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
  • Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U. S. origin.
  • If made before or within five years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.
  • If registration is made within three months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.
  • 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.

Registration may be made at any time within the life of the copyright. Unlike the law before 1978, when a work has been registered in unpublished form, it is not necessary to make another registration when the work becomes published, although the copyright owner may register the published edition, if desired. This means you can apply for your certificate of registration at any time in the self publishing process - even after your book has come to market.

Registration Procedures

Filing an Original Claim to Copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office

An application for copyright registration contains three essential elements:

  1. a completed application form
  2. a nonrefundable filing fee
  3. a nonreturnable deposit—that is, a copy or copies of the work being registered and “deposited” with the Copyright Office

A copyright registration is effective on the date the Copyright Office receives all required elements in acceptable form, regardless of how long it takes to process the application and mail the certificate of registration. The time needed to process applications varies depending on the amount of material the Office is receiving and the method of application.

The fastest and most cost-effective way to apply for your registration certificate is online through the electronic Copyright Office (eCO). This is the preferred way to register basic claims for literary works.electronic Copyright Office.