What is a copyright?

Copyrights are designed to promote the creation of works of literature, art, and music. Copyrights give authors limited property rights in their works. You can have copyright protections if you have created: literary works, musical works including song lyrics, dramatic works, pantomimes and choreographic works, pictorial works, graphic works, sculptural works, motion pictures, other audiovisual works, sound recordings, and architectural works. Copyright protection does not extend to ideas, only the author’s method of expressing such ideas.

The Supreme Court in Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service, 499 U.S. 340 (1991) explained what type of works can be copyrighted. The Court held that to qualify for copyright protection, a work must be original to the author. Further, the work must possesses some minimal degree of creativity. In that case, it was a phone book which merely listed the names and numbers of local residents. The Court held that this did not have the minimum degree of creativity necessary for protection.

Since the 1976 Copyright Act, there is no longer any requirement to publish or register the work, or indeed to take any action involving the Copyright Office in order to secure copyright protection for works. But, it is still recommended that you register your copyrightable works. Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, but there are quite a few benefits to registering the copyright anyway. The registration is a public record of the author’s copyright claim, which means no one can claim they were not aware of your copyright as a defense. Registration can be a prerequisite to filing an infringement suit in court. The copyright is presumed valid in a court of law if properly registered, rather than needing to prove that element without the registration. If registered, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in infringement actions, whereas without registration, the copyright holder can only be awarded actual damages and defendant’s profits. Registering a copyright helps protect against importing fake copies.

To register a work you must submit to the Library of Congress, Copyright Office, a properly completed application form, a nonrefundable filing fee for each application, and a non-returnable deposit of a copy, or two copies if required, of the work being registered.  The various forms can be where the process gets tricky. If you are confused at all, please consult a qualified copyright attorney. Form PA is for performing arts works, such as movies, dramatic works, and choreographic works. Form SE is for serial works, such as newsletters and magazines. Form SR is for sound recordings, which is for most music. Form TX is for nondramatic literary works, which means books. Form VA is for visual arts works, including sculptures, pictures, architectural drawings, and paintings. Form G/DN is for a complete month’s issues of a daily newspaper, but is only used under certain conditions. There is also short forms for TX, PA, VA, and SE which are used only in certain instances. There is also form GATT which is used when registering a US copyright pursuant to the Uruguay Round Agreements Act. When renewing a copyright, you would use Form RE, or RE Addendum. To correct or add more information to a form, you would use form CA.

While the initial registration process may not be that difficult, it is important to consult an attorney, so that you can fully understand the rights which are bestowed on copyright holders. No one will ensure that your copyrights are protected other than you or your copyright attorney. For any new copyright registration, your copyrights will be protected for the entirety of the copyright holder’s life, plus 70 years after their death.

If the copyright belongs to a corporation, or the work was made for hire, anonymous, or pseudonymous, then the work will be protected for either 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever comes earlier.

There are several stages in the life of a copyright, below are frequently asked questions:

What is pre-registration of a copyright?

How do I get a copyright?

How do I register a copyright?

What is copyright infringement?


What is preregistration of a copyright?

Pre-registration of a copyright is often unnecessary, but can provide additional protection if you have concerns about infringement on your unfinished work. Pre-registration is only available if production has begun on an unpublished work that is being prepared for commercial distribution. Additionally, only movies, musical works, audio recordings, computer programs, books, or advertisement photographs can be pre-registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Our attorneys can determine whether your work is eligible and whether pre-registration is in your best interests.


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