Copyright is a form of protection that is available for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Your documentary film is entitled to automatic copyright protection from the moment it is recorded; however, you also have the option to formally register the work. Registration is beneficial because it creates a public record and allows you to recover monetary damages in the event that someone infringes on your documentary film. You can register in three ways: online through the U.S. Copyright Office, online using a document preparation and filing service such as LegalZoom.com or by mailing in paper forms.
Online Registration through the Copyright Office
Navigate to the U.S. Copyright Office website (link in Resources) and click "eCo Login."
Click "Continue to eCo" and "If you are a new user, click here to register."
Fill out the new user registration form. You will be redirected to the Electronic Copyright Office Web page when you are finished
Click "Register a New Claim" in the left pane of the Electronic Copyright Office page and then click "Start Registration." Fill out the registration form. At the end of the registration form, you will be asked to specify a payment method for remitting the registration fees.
Online Registration Using LegalZoom.com
Browse to the Copyright Registration section on the LegalZoom.com website (link in Resources).
Check the box next to "Movie or Video" and then click "Get Started."
Answer the simple questionnaire that appears. At the end of the registration form, you will be asked to provide a method of payment for the services. Once your questionnaire is complete, LegalZoom.com assembles your copyright application and files it with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Filing Paper Forms
Contact the U.S. Copyright Office and request paper versions of Form PA.
Fill out Form PA.
Send your completed Form PA, accompanied by a check for the filing fees, to the address listed on the form.
Note that copyright only protects the expression fixed in your motion picture. It does not protect the idea or concept behind the documentary.
Copyright fees are subject to change. For current fees, check the Copyright Office website.
Thomas King is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law where he served as managing editor of the "Pittsburgh Journal of Environmental and Public Health Law." He currently lives in Aberdeen, Washington where he writes and practices law.