Copyright law protects works of authorship, including art and software algorithms. To fully protect your work, you must create it and then register it with the U.S. Copyright Office. U.S. copyright law imposes both civil and criminal penalties against infringement. If you register your work, you can obtain damages of up to $150,000 per infringement without proving that the infringement caused you any economic damages. The procedure for creating and registering your copyright is straightforward and simple.
Reduce your work to tangible form: record a song, for example, or write down a story. As long as your work is original, it is entitled to copyright protection even if it is never published.
Read More: Copyright Registration Advantages & Disadvantages
Navigate to Form CO on the website of the U.S. Copyright Office (please see Reference 1). You can complete this form online.
Complete Form CO. You must provide the title of the work, the type of work, the publication details (if it has been published) and the year of completion. You must also provide the full name of the author, the author's years of birth and death (if applicable), and the name and contact details of the copyright claimant if the claimant is not the author. You must also provide contact details that will allow people to request permission to use your work.
Send Form CO, a digital copy of your work and a filing fee, $35 as of publication date, per work to the U.S. Copyright Office. You may also file your application by surface mail for a fee of $50 at publication date per work. The Copyright Office will mail you a copyright certificate.
If you don't register your work either before an infringement occurs or within three months after it is first published, you will not be entitled to statutory damages. Instead, you will be eligible for damages only to the extent that you can prove economic harm. Proving economic harm can be difficult in copyright infringement cases.
The copyright claimant will be different from the author if the author sold the copyright to someone else. If it was a work for hire, however, the hiring party is treated as the original author.
Registering your copyright and attaching copyright notices to published copies of your work before an infringement occurs will help you defeat a claim of "innocent infringement" (an accidental copyright violation). This may cause the court to grant you a higher damages award.
If you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and you create your work in the U.S., your copyright is automatically protected in every nation that signed the Berne Convention copyright treaty.
David Carnes has been a full-time writer since 1998 and has published two full-length novels. He spends much of his time in various Asian countries and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. He earned a Juris Doctorate from the University of Kentucky College of Law.