Five Reasons to Register Your Copyright

Guest post by Dave Owens, an attorney who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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When you create a work, you have copyright protection regardless of whether the work was registered. Before 1978, you had to register your work in order to receive copyright protection. If you failed to properly register or did not provide sufficient notice, the work would fall into the public domain.

Now, under the Copyright Act, the only requirements are:

  1. Originality (this is not a high standard; courts don’t expect everyone to be DaVinci), and
  2. Fixation in a tangible medium of expression (it has to exist on something tangible — paper, film, disc, etc.)

Although registration is no longer a requirement, there are still several important benefits to registering your work. Upon completing your work, you should consider registering your copyright.

Find Out The Five Reasons To Register Your Copyright

5.   Prima Facie Evidence

Registering your copyright provides prima facie evidence of your ownership of the copyright on a work if registration is made within five years of first publication. Prima facie evidence means that the registration is sufficient to prove to the court that you owned the copyright.

4.  Jurisdiction in Federal Court

Registration is required if you want to sue in federal court. Otherwise your only option is to sue in state court, which may have less favorable remedies.

3.   Attorney Fees and Statutory Damages

Registration is a prerequisite to receiving certain remedies under the Copyright Act. If you registered your copyright prior to the infringement, you are entitled to receive attorney fees and statutory damages.

Often times, your actual damages or the profits an individual made from the infringement will not add up to that much. Thus, without statutory damages and attorney fees, litigating the matter would not make financial sense.

For statutory damages, the court can award between $750 and $30,000 in damages. If the court finds that the infringement was willful, the court can award up to $150,000.

This is why you should register your copyright as soon as you complete the work. If the work is unpublished and unregistered prior to the infringement, the copyright holder will never be entitled to attorney fees and statutory damages.

If infringement occurred after first publication and before registration, the copyright holder must register the work within three months after the first publication of the work to be entitled to statutory damages and attorney fees.

2.   U.S. Customs

Federal registration allows you to register with US Customs and Border Protection. Customs’ main job is to monitor and seize any infringing items at entry ports. Basically you get the government to help enforce your intellectual property rights. You can file with the US Customs and Border Protection for $190 per copyright.

1.    It’s Not That Complicated

The registration process is not that difficult and is fairly inexpensive. Online filing for basic claims is only $35. The paper form for basic claims is only $50. Filling out the application should take less than an hour.

When you consider that registration makes a major difference for evidentiary issues, where you can sue, how much you can sue for, and Customs protection, it’s time and money well spent.

Dave Owens is an attorney based in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He can be reached at [email protected]