How to Copyright Fast & Legally

By Grygor Scott
You, a copyright
black copyright symbol image by Angie Chauvin from Fotolia.com

The U.S. government grants creators an intellectual property right “for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression,” according to the U.S. Copyright Office. Copyrightable works include “literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture,” states the Copyright Office. Once you’ve created a work and fixed it in a tangible form, copyright laws give you the exclusive right to publish it in the United States. You should not stop there, however. Take two additional straightforward actions to strengthen the copyright protection for your work.

Attach a Copyright Notice

Determine the work’s date of publication and its copyright owner. The copyright owner can be a company or a person.

Draft a copyright notice. The proper format has three parts. Use either the word “Copyright," the abbreviation “Copr.” or the copyright symbol © (the letter "C" in a circle). Follow it with the year of the work’s first publication and the copyright owner’s name. Example: © 2011 Jonathan Doe.

Place the copyright notice in the work. Although copyright laws do not require a copyright notice to be affixed to a work, the notice will alert potential infringers that federal copyright laws protect the work. U.S. law requires that a copyright notice, if used, be placed in the copyrighted work in a way that provides “reasonable notice of the claim of copyright.” See the Copyright Office’s Circular 3, “Copyright Notice,” for a list of acceptable places to put your notice.

Register Online

Navigate to the Electronic Copyright Office’s web page to register your copyright online fast and legally. Because registration creates the legal presumption that a copyright is legitimate, registering your copyright will make is easier for you to prove copyright infringement. Registration also allows you to recover damages without proving actual harm. Registering online has several advantages: it takes less time to fill out the application, applications are processed quicker by the Copyright Office and it gives you the ability to track the application’s status.

Fill out the online registration form to create an account. Print out the tips and view the tutorial before using the online form to save time and effort and to avoid making an error that may cause the Copyright Office to return your application for revision.

Register your copyright by completing Form eCO, the Copyright Office's online application form. Pay the registration fee by credit card.

Submit deposit copies. U.S. law requires a copyright owner to deposit “two complete copies of the best edition [of the] work” to the Copyright Office within three months of publication. Use the Electronic Copyright Office’s online system to print out a shipping slip. Send two copies of your work to: Library of Congress, U.S. Copyright Office, 101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington, D.C. 20599-6222.

About the Author

Grygor Scott has written professionally since 1991, with a focus on law, government, food and travel. His work has appeared in "New York Resident" and on eHow and other websites. Scott graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina School of Law.