The Basics About Copyright Registration

What is a copyright? Do I need copyright protection? How do I register?

Woman writing sheet music at the piano
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A copyright is a form of intellectual property law which protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software and architecture. Copyright law does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.


Copyright or Patent?

There are three types of protection for intellectual property.
Property that a person creates with their mind or intellect.
  • patents protect inventions and improvements to existing inventions
  • trademarks are brand names and/or designs which are applied to products you can sell or services that you offer
  • copyright protection covers literary, artistic, and musical works.
  • Examples of Copyrights
  • Gone With The Wind - the book and film
  • System of A Down - the band's recordings and artwork
  • Video games are all works that are copyrighted.

Copyright Protection

Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form so that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. The moment you write it, paint it, or put it on the internet, your work is copyright protected.


Library of Congress

In the United States, the Library of Congress officially registers copyrights which now last for the life of the author plus 70 years.

No one else can profit or copy your ideas without your permission during this time period.

Do I Need to Register?

Your works of art, music, etc, all have copyright protection with or without formal copyright registration with the Library of Congress or any other copyright office. However, copyright registration adds proof of copyright ownership and aids you in fighting copyright infringement.

Copyright literally means the right to copy.

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.

Even though registration is not a requirement for protection, the copyright law provides several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners to make registration.

Advantages of Copyright Registration

  • Copyright registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
  • Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, copyright registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin.
  • If made before or within five years of publication, copyright registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.
  • If copyright 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.
  • Copyright 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.

When Can You Register

Copyright registration may be made at any time within the life of the copyright.

To copyright register a work in the United States via paper registration you have to send three things in the same envelope or package. 


Copyright Registration - The Three Things You Must Send In The Same Envelope

  1. For a properly completed application using paper forms. Generally, to register literary works and computer programs, use Form TX; for performing arts, use Form PA; for single issue serials/periodicals, use Form SE; for a group of issues of serials/periodicals, use Form SE/Group; for a group of daily newspapers or newsletters, use Form SE; for sound recordings, use Form SR; for visual arts, use Form VA.
  1. A nonrefundable filing fee of for each application. As of 2011 the fee is thirty-five dollars, and up depending on how you file. Check to see what the current fee is.
  2. A nonreturnable deposit of the work being registered. The deposit requirements will vary in particular situations. A deposit is usually one copy (if unpublished) or two copies (if published) of the work to be registered for copyright.
    Learn More About Deposits
Applications and fees received without appropriate copies, phonorecords, or identifying material will not be processed by the Copyright Office and are not returned.

Always submit the best edition of your published work as your deposit.

Look for the "deposit requirements" that apply to your work (i.e. painting, novel etc) described in detail for every category of work listed under Copyright Registration Procedures.

eCO Online System

You can file a copyright registration for your work through the Copyright Office online system.
    • In completing an application form to register a claim to copyright, it is important to give clear and accurate information.
    • Applications of extremely poor quality will not be accepted. In completing your application form, therefore, use a typewriter with a good ribbon or print all information (except your signature) clearly with a pen in black ink. Do not use a pencil or colored pens (blue, green, red, etc.).
    • If the application you use is a photocopy or a computer printout, make sure that it is clear, legible, and on a good quality of 8 1/2-inch by 11-inch white paper.
    • Any two-page forms must be printed head to head on a single sheet of paper so that when you turn the sheet over, the top of page 2 is directly behind the top of page 1.
    • Do not enlarge or reduce the size of the form.
    • If you use the fill-in-forms online forms may be printed with either a laser or inkjet printer. However, inkjet printer copies of the forms require enlarging if you use the Shrink to Fit Page option, so don't use it.
    • To avoid damage to your deposit caused by necessary security measures, package the following items in boxes rather than envelopes for mailing to the Copyright Office: electronic media such as audiocassettes, videocassettes, CDs, and DVDs, microform, photographs, slick advertisements, color photocopies, and other print items that are rubber-and vegetable-based.
    • Always submit the best edition of your work as your deposit.

    See - Registering Different Types of Works

    To learn how to apply for copyright registration for your type of work.

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    Your Citation
    Bellis, Mary. "The Basics About Copyright Registration." ThoughtCo, Aug. 6, 2016, Bellis, Mary. (2016, August 6). The Basics About Copyright Registration. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The Basics About Copyright Registration." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 16, 2018).