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.
Among these advantages are the following:
• Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
• Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U. S. origin.
• If made before or within five years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.
• If 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.
• 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.
Registration may be made at any time within the life of the copyright. Unlike the law before 1978, when a work has been registered in unpublished form, it is not necessary to make another registration when the work becomes published, although the copyright owner may register the published edition, if desired.
Filing an Original Claim to Copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office
An application for copyright registration contains three essential elements: a completed application form, a nonrefundable filing fee, and a nonreturnable deposit—that is, a copy or copies of the work being registered and “deposited” with the Copyright Office. If you apply online for copyright registration, you will receive an email saying that your application was received. If you apply for copyright registration using a paper application, you will not receive an acknowledgment that your application has been received (the Office receives more than
600,000 applications annually). With either online or paper applications, you can expect:
• a letter, telephone call or email from a Copyright Office staff member if further information is needed or
• a certificate of registration indicating that the work has been registered, or if the application cannot be accepted, a letter explaining why it has been rejected.
Requests to have certificates available for pickup in the Public Information Office or to have certificates sent by Federal Express or another mail service cannot be honored. If you apply using a paper application and you want to know the date that the Copyright Office receives your material, send it by registered or certified mail and request a return receipt. You can apply to register your copyright in one of two ways.
Online registration through the electronic Copyright Office (eCO) is the preferred way to register basic claims for literary works; visual arts works; performing arts works, including motion pictures; sound recordings; and single serials. Advantages of online filing include:
• a lower filing fee;
• the fastest processing time;
• online status tracking;
• secure payment by credit or debit card, electronic check, or Copyright Office deposit account; and
• the ability to upload certain categories of deposits directly into eCO as electronic files.
Basic claims include (1) a single work; (2) multiple unpublished works if the elements are assembled in an orderly form; the combined elements bear a single title identifying the collection as a whole; the copyright claimant in all the elements and in the collection as a whole is the same; and all the elements are by the same author or, if they are by different authors, at least one of the authors has contributed copyrightable authorship to each element; and (3) multiple published works if they are all first published together in the same publication on the same date and owned by the same claimant.
You can also register your copyright using forms TX (literary works); VA (visual arts works); PA (performing arts works, including motion pictures); SR (sound recordings); and SE (single serials). On a personal computer, complete the form for the type of work you are registering,
print it out, and mail it with a check or money order and your deposit. Blank forms can also be printed out and completed by hand.
Applications That Must Be Completed on Paper
Certain applications must be completed on paper and mailed to the Copyright Office with the appropriate fee and deposit. Forms for these applications include the following:
• Form D-VH for registration of vessel hull designs;
• Form MW for registration of mask works;
• Form CA to correct an error or to amplify the information given in a registration;
• Form GATT for registration of works in which the U.S. copyright was restored under the 1994 Uruguay Round Agreements Act;
• Form RE for renewal of copyright claims; and
• Applications for group registration, including group registration of automated databases consisting predominantly of photographs and Form GR/PPh (published photographs), unless permission to enter the online pilot project mentioned above in “Online Application” is approved
by the Visual Arts Division; Form GR/CP (contributions to periodicals); Form SE/Group serials); and Form G/DN (daily newspapers and newsletters).
Mailing Addresses for Applications Filed on Paper and for Hard-copy Deposits
Library of Congress
U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20559
Filing a Renewal Registration
To register a renewal, send the following:
1. a properly completed application Form RE and, if necessary, Form RE Addendum, and
2. a nonrefundable filing fee* for each application and each Addendum. Each Addendum form must be accompanied by a deposit representing the work being renewed.
If you file an application for copyright registration online using eCO, you may in some cases attach an electronic copy of your deposit. If you do not have an electronic copy or if you must send a hard copy or copies of your deposit to comply with the “best edition” requirements for published works, you must print out a shipping slip, attach it to your deposit, and mail the deposit to the Copyright Office. Send the deposit, fee, and paper registration form packaged
Library of Congress
U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20559
The hard-copy deposit of the work being registered will not be returned to you. The deposit requirements vary in particular situations. The general requirements follow:
• if the work is unpublished, one complete copy or phonorecord;
• if the work was first published in the United States on or after January 1, 1978, two complete copies or phonorecords of the best edition;
• if the work was first published in the United States before January 1, 1978, two complete copies or phonorecords of the work as first published; and
• if the work was first published outside the United States, one complete copy or phonorecord of the work as first published.
When registering with eCO, you will receive via your printer a shipping slip that you must include with your deposit that you send to the Copyright Office. This shipping slip is unique to your claim to copyright and will link your deposit to your application. Do not reuse the shipping slip.
Special Deposit Requirements
Special deposit requirements exist for many types of works. The following are prominent examples of exceptions to the general deposit requirements:
• If the work is a motion picture, the deposit requirement is one complete copy of the unpublished or published motion picture and a separate written description of its contents, such as a continuity, press book, or synopsis.
• If the work is a literary, dramatic, or musical work published only in a phonorecord, the deposit requirement is one complete phonorecord.
• If the work is an unpublished or published computer program, the deposit requirement is one visually perceptible copy in source code of the first 25 and last 25 pages of the program. For a program of fewer than 50 pages, the deposit is a copy of the entire program.
• If the work is in a CD-ROM format, the deposit requirement is one complete copy of the material, that is, the CD-ROM, the operating software, and any manual(s) accompanying it. If registration is sought for the computer program on the CD-ROM, the deposit should also include a printout of the first 25 and last 25 pages of source code for the program. In the case of works reproduced in three-dimensional copies, identifying material such as photographs or drawings
is ordinarily required. Other examples of special deposit requirements (but by no means an exhaustive list) include many works of the visual arts such as greeting cards, toys, fabrics, and oversized materials.
Under the following conditions, a work may be registered in unpublished form as a “collection,” with one application form and one fee:
• The elements of the collection are assembled in an orderly form;
• The combined elements bear a single title identifying the collection as a whole;
• The copyright claimant in all the elements and in the collection as a whole is the same; and
• All the elements are by the same author, or, if they are by different authors, at least one of the authors has contributed copyrightable authorship to each element.
An unpublished collection is not indexed under the individual titles of the contents but under the title of the collection.
Filing a Preregistration
Preregistration is a service intended for works that have had a history of prerelease infringement. To be eligible for preregistration, a work must be unpublished and must be in the process of being prepared for commercial distribution. It must also fall within a class of works determined by the Register of Copyrights to have had a history of infringement prior to authorized commercial distribution. Preregistration is not a substitute for registration. The preregistration application Form PRE is only available online.
Effective Date of Registration
When the Copyright Office issues a registration certificate, it assigns as the effective date of registration the date it received all required elements—an application, a nonrefundable filing fee, and a nonreturnable deposit—in acceptable form, regardless of how long it took to process the application and mail the certificate. You do not have to receive your certificate before you ublish or produce your work, nor do you need permission from the Copyright Office to place a copyright notice on your work. However, the Copyright Office must have acted on your application before you can file a suit for copyright infringement, and certain remedies, such as statutory damages and attorney’s fees, are available only for acts of infringement that occurred after the effective date of registration. If a published work was infringed before the effective date of registration, those remedies may also be available if the effective date of registration is no later than three months after the first publication of the work.
Corrections and Amplifications of Existing Registrations
To correct an error in a copyright registration or to amplify the information given in a registration, file with the Copyright Office a supplementary registration Form CA. File Form CA in the same manner as described above under Registration Procedures. The information in a supplementary registration augments but does not supersede that contained in the earlier registration. Note also that a supplementary registration is not a substitute for original registration, for renewal registration, or for recordation of a transfer of ownership.
Mandatory Deposit for Works Published in the United States
Although a copyright registration is not required, the Copyright Act establishes a mandatory deposit requirement for works published in the United States. In general, the owner of copyright or the owner of the exclusive right of publication in the work has a legal obligation to deposit in the Copyright Office, within three months of publication in the United States, two copies (or in the case of sound recordings, two phonorecords) for the use of the Library of Congress. Failure to make the deposit can result in fines and other penalties but does not affect copyright protection. If a registration for a claim to copyright in a published work is filed online and the deposit is submitted online, the actual physical deposit must still be submitted to satisfy mandatory deposit requirements. Certain categories of works are exempt entirely from the mandatory deposit requirements, and the obligation is reduced for certain other categories.
Use of Mandatory Deposit to Satisfy Registration Requirements
For works published in the United States, the copyright law contains a provision under which a single deposit can be made to satisfy both the deposit requirements for the Library and the registration requirements. To have this dual effect, the copies or phonorecords must be accompanied by the prescribed application form and filing fee. If applicable, a copy of the mandatory deposit notice must also be included with the submission.
Who May File an Application Form?
The following persons are legally entitled to submit an application form:
• The author. This is either the person who actually created the work or, if the work was made for hire, the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared.
• The copyright claimant. The copyright claimant is defined in Copyright Office regulations as either the author of the work or a person or organization that has obtained ownership of all the rights under the copyright initially belonging to the author. This category includes a person or organization who has obtained by contract the right to claim legal title to the copyright in an application for copyright registration.
• The owner of exclusive right(s). Under the law, any of the exclusive rights that make up a copyright and any subdivision of them can be transferred and owned separately, even though the transfer may be limited in time or place of effect. The term “copyright owner” with respect to any one of the exclusive rights contained in a copyright refers to the owner of that particular right. Any owner of an exclusive right may apply for registration of a claim in the work.
• The duly authorized agent of such author, other copyright claimant, or owner of exclusive right(s). Any person authorized to act on behalf of the author, other copyright claimant, or owner of exclusive rights may apply for registration. There is no requirement that applications be prepared or filed by an attorney.