A copyright can protect “original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression”. Examples of the type of works you can protect by copyright include books you write, art work you produce, source code that you write, etc.
You can actually earn a copyright in the U.S. by just creating the work, but you can get stronger copyright interests by filing a federal copyright registration with the U.S. Copyright Office. For example, if you obtain a federal copyright registration before the particular infringement occurs, then you can obtain statutory damages and attorney fees in addition to just the actual damages. These additional damages can give you significant leverage to use against the infringer to get them to stop, ideally without you even having to pursue federal copyright infringement litigation.
You should consider filing a federal copyright registration on your most valuable products, but it would not be practical to file one for every single article that you write. And you probably wouldn’t spend the money to sue someone for copying one single article from you, anyway.
In the rest of this article, I’ll walk you through the 3 basic steps to filing your own copyright registration in case you want to do this yourself without the help of an attorney. Please note that some of the information being requested on the application form can be a bit confusing, so please pay careful attention to what is being asked.
1. Gather The Application Materials
The first step is to gather the application materials and information. You will need to know details such
as the exact title of the work, the date on which it was published (if the work was published already), the name and citizenship of the authors, the name and adderss of the copyright owner, and how the work was published (such as digitally, in print, etc.) You will also need to know what the predominant part of the work is, such as video, text, audio, etc. Once you have gathered the basic information, you are ready to move on to the next step.
The hardest part of this step is determining the proper authorship, such as when multiple companies or contractors were involved in creating the work. If your employees created it internally, then you can list your company name as the author and the work as a “work for hire”. If you obtained the copyright interests through a written agreement (such as with a contractor), you would then specify the other company’s name, and written agreement as the manner that you obtained ownership.
2. File The Application Online Using Copyright.Gov
Once you have gathered the basic information about the work you want to copyright, you should visit copyright.gov to start the application process online. You will see a link to the Electronic Copyright Office. Upon clicking that link, you will be re-directed to the online filing system, where you can create a new account if you don’t already have one.
Once you have an account, you can login and start a new registration. You will then be prompted to choose the type of work you want to register, and will then be guided through a series of screens to fill in the information regarding the work. You can always save your work if information is being requested that you did not gather in step 1, and you need more time to look it up. Once you finalize the electronic application, the final step allows you to add the copyright application to your cart and then either work on other applications, or start the submission process where you remit payment and confirm the filing.
3. Upload Or Mail Copies Of The Work
Once you have submitted your application through the Electronic Copyright Office, you will be prompted to either upload copies of the work, or to print off a mailing label to mail those copies to the Copyright Office.
You generally have to submit 2 copies of the published work if the work has been published in a printed format, and 1 copy if it has not yet been published in a printed format. In the case of works published digitally, you either have to upload the digital files (if they are small enough to upload), or you have to mail one or more DVD’s/CD’s containing the work. In the case of computer software, you will have to upload the first 25 and last 25 pages of the source code, with any trade secrets marked out or excluded.
You will need to follow the instructions from the Copyright Office on exactly what to mail them or upload, since the requirements vary depending on the type of work, and on whether it has been published already or not.
Once you submit the actual examples of the work to the Copyright Office, you will then receive a certificate of registration in approximately 4-6 months, depending on how busy the particular copyright department is at a particular moment.
So there you have it. That’s the entire process of filing a copyright application!