Copyright law protects the intellectual property rights of people who develop original creative works, such as art, literature and music. Copyright gives the creators of original works the exclusive right to profit from their work for a set amount of time, usually the life of the creator plus 70 years. A basic level of copyright protection arises automatically when a work is created. Enhanced protection and enforcement powers can be obtained through copyright registration.
Copyright protection arises automatically, as soon as a creative work becomes fixed in a tangible form, for example, on a piece of paper, model or digital file. An original work is copyrighted as soon as it takes form beyond an intangible idea. No particular copyright notice, publication, paperwork or filing is necessary to bring copyright into being regarding an original work. All that is required is that the work be of sufficient original content to qualify as copyrightable, and that threshold is extremely low. Any level of original creative expression will meet the copyright statute requirements for a copyrightable work.
Benefits of Registration
Registration of copyright creates a public record of the copyrighted work and publicly identifies the copyright holder. A copyright holder may not bring suit for copyright infringement of works originating in the U.S. until he has registered the work with the U.S. Copyright Office; prompt registration after a work is created also permits copyright holders to seek attorneys fees and statutory damages in copyright infringement lawsuits.
Electronic and Paper Registration
Using the U.S. Copyright Office's online electronic registration system will result in registration being completed in approximately three months. The average processing time for hard-copy registrations is 10 months. All materials included with a paper registration must be bundled into a single package and care must be taken to insure the materials are not damaged in shipping, which can add to the costs of registration. Submitting a correct and properly filled out application will help to speed up approval. An online legal document preparer can assist you with this process.
Copyright registration is effective on the date the U.S. Copyright Office receives the completed application and appropriate fees. When you file for copyright electronically, you will receive an email confirming your application has been received. If you submit a paper registration, you will not receive receipt confirmation from the U.S. Copyright Office. Therefore, it's advisable to ship your paper registration using a carrier that provides a record of delivery, to document the effective date of registration.
A freelance writer since 1978 and attorney since 1981, Cindy Hill has won awards for articles on organic agriculture and wild foods, and has published widely in the areas of law, public policy, local foods and gardening. She holds a B.A. in political science from State University of New York and a Master of Environmental Law and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.