Registering and Protecting Copyrights
Copyright law protects both published and unpublished works of authorship “fixed in a tangible means of expression.” This means that you can protect what you’ve written down or recorded in some way, but not just what you’ve thought or told someone.
Copyright does NOT protect:
However, copyright does protect the way those ideas are expressed. For example, if you write a book about yoga, copyright law will protect the words and pictures in the book, but won’t prevent other people from practicing yoga or using the postures described in the book.
Works are protected by copyright law from the moment they’re fixed in a tangible form. They can be fixed by being:
- Written down on paper
- Saved in a computer’s memory
- Recorded on audio tape or in digital form
- Preserved on photographic film
Benefits of Registration
Works don’t have to be registered with the US Copyright Office in order to be protected. However, registration offers a number of benefits:
- You can’t sue in federal court unless and until your copyright is registered.
- It makes a public record of your copyright claim and gives you a certificate of registration.
- If you sue to enforce your copyright, you may be able to get statutory damages and attorney’s fees.
- If registration occurs within five years of a work’s publication, it’s considered prima facie evidence in court. This makes it easier to win an infringement case.
(By the way, the concept of the “poor man’s copyright” – sending yourself something in a sealed envelope – provides no additional protection and isn’t recognized by law.)
Registration of a copyright is relatively cheap and easy. It can be done online and the forms are available here.
You will need to:
- Complete an application
- Pay the required fee
- Submit your work
Although copyright claimants can do all of this themselves, many find it more convenient to have a copyright attorney do this for them.