Magazines typically contain contributions from multiple creative people, but the copyright in the compiled book usually belongs to the owner of the magazine. Creative contributions to magazines are usually considered works-for-hire, where the creator sells his rights to the magazine in exchange for payment. The owner of the magazine has a common law copyright in the completed work as soon as it is produced in a fixed medium. This means the owner is the acknowledged holder of the rights in the magazine, without having to formally register the work with a government entity. If the owner wants to protect his rights by suing an infringer, however, he must register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Only registered works have standing to sue for protection in federal courts.
Put a notice of copyright in a conspicuous place within the magazine. Notice informs the public of the magazine publisher's reservation of the exclusive rights to benefit financially from the magazine. It also prevents infringers from claiming to be unaware of the copyrighted status of the material. Most publications place a standard copyright notice on one of the first few pages of the book. Any language that provides notice of copyright is sufficient, but there is standard language that most publications use. Open any book or periodical and use the same notice.
Read More: What Is the Correct Form for a Copyright Notice?
Access the electronic Copyright Office, or eCO, on the U.S. Copyright Office's website. Using the eCO is not the only method of registering your magazine, but it is the preferred method. The eCO is the method with the lowest filing fees and the fastest processing time. It is also the only method where you can track the status of your application. Create a login account by selecting a user name and password.
File out the online copyright application. Select the "Register a Ne Claim" option on the sidebar, under the Copyright Services menu. Click on "Step One: Complete an application." Select "Literary Work" as the type of work category that includes magazines. Fill out the rest of the application by following the instructions by following the prompts based upon whether the magazine has been published or is still unpublished.
Submit a sample of the magazine. If the magazine exists in an electronic format, you can upload a sample to the eCO system. If the magazine does not exist in an electronic format, you must mail samples to the Copyright Office separately. If you are sending the samples in by mail, print the mailing label from the eCO system. The system prepares the label with a barcode to make it easier to match your submission with your electronic application. Prepare the package exactly as required by the eCO system to avoid processing delays.
Pay the filing fee. Select "checkout" to process payment. The eCO system accepts credit card payments or an electronic transfer from a bank account. You can also pay with a Copyright Office deposit account if you have funds on reserve with the office. You must provide a valid email address to process your payment. This is where the payment confirmation is sent. Keep your payment confirmation with your business records as proof of registration. Your payment is nonrefundable, even if your copyright application is rejected, so prepare your application carefully.
Federal law preempts state copyright laws. You will own the common law copyright to your magazine upon publication, but unless you register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office, you will have no way to stop an infringer or recover damages. It is only by registering with the Copyright Office that you gain standing to sue infringers in federal court.
If your magazine is a serial publication, you can obtain a blanket copyright that covers the entire series, without having to register each individual book.
If you register your work with the Copyright Office within three months of publication you are entitled to statutory damages and attorney's fees in case of infringement. With statutory damages, you don't have to prove that the infringement actually damaged you. All you have to prove is that the infringement happened. Once you prove infringement, you can recover the damages and fees prescribed by law, which are significant.
If you do not want to file electronically, you can also register using paper forms or fill-in forms. You can download forms from the U.S. Copyright Office's website. The mailing address is Library of Congress, Copyright Office, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C. 20559-6000.
- U.S. Copyright Office: Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright
- SBA.gov Community: Ultimate Guide to Intellectual Property
- Copyright Alliance: How to Copyright Creative Works
- Ohio State University Fact Sheet: Copyrights, Patents, Trademarks
- University of New Hampshire School of Law: Copyright, Patent and Trademark Basics
- Burke/Triolo Productions/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images