How to protect a copyright

protect a copyright


Registering your work is not mandatory, since copyright is automatically established upon creation of a copyrightable item, such as a literary work, a piece of music, or a film. The U.S. Copyright Office defines the term created as the work being fixed in a format that can be read or viewed alone or through the use of a device or machine.

The work need not be published by an outside source, nor does it have to contain a copyright notice if created after January 1, 1978, but there are advantages to registering as well as to using the copyright notice.


While you are not required to register your work, copyright law is written in a way that provides ultimate protection to those that do register.

-Registering creates a public record of the claim to copyright.

-If legal action should be required regarding any work that originated in the United States, registration will be necessary anyway before filing suit.

-Registration helps establish a prima facie (i.e. obvious or evident) case for the legitimacy of the copyright and establishes the legal owner of the work.

-If you are forced to file suit, you will be able to collect statutory damages and attorney’s fees as well as actual damages related to loss of profit, if registration has been completed within three months of the creation of the work (and before infringement occurs). If more than three months have passed before registration, or infringement occurs before that time, you will only be allowed to seek actual damages.


Registering is easy, and your registration will become valid the moment the Copyright Office receives your submission (even though it may take some time to process your application).

The following are necessary to register:

-A completed application form

-A non-returnable copy of the work you want registered

-A check or money order for $30.00 for each work that you wish to register

Enclose these items in the same package and send, postage paid, to:

Library of Congress
Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000


Affixing a proper copyright notice to one’s work is the sole responsibility of the owner. Permission is not needed, and registration is not required, before the notice can be used.

The notice is very easy to produce and need only contain three items:

-A symbol that denotes copyright, which can be the standard capital “C” inside a circle or the word Copyright spelled out and capitalized.

-The first year the work was published.

-The author or copyright owner’s name.

While in the past the copyright notice was required by law, it is no longer compulsory for works created after 1978. As of that time, all works receive automatic copyright protection, which lasts throughout the owner’s life and extends 70 years after the owner’s demise. However, the use of the notice is beneficial for today’s authors even though not legally required.

-First, the notice is important because it lets readers know that the work is copyrighted and may not be used without permission.

-The notice lets the public know who created the work and when it was created or published.

-Should the work become subject to unauthorized use, a defendant will not be able to claim “innocent infringement (i.e. claiming he didn’t know the work was copyrighted) if a proper copyright notice appears on the printed material and any copies.


Some people claim there is a poor man’s copyright” that allows one to avoid paying the fee required by the U.S. Copyright Office. Unfortunately, this method, which promotes registering work with the post office, is not equivalent to registering with the Copyright Office.

The post office does not collect enough significant information to impress the courts, should legal action be required, and registered mail is archived for less than ten years. Copyright privileges extend up to seventy years after the owner’s death, so less than ten years is not sufficient.

This method may be used as a temporary fix until an actual registration can be filed but it is not recommended for those seeking protection should legal recourse become necessary.


While there are copyright treaties that help protect international works, there are no guarantees that your work will be protected worldwide. Just as different states have different laws, different countries do as well. Recourse for infringement of your work will depend on the laws of a particular country.

You can attempt to protect your work from reappearing here after being infringed in another country, by having any unauthorized copies stopped at customs. Contact the U.S. Customs Service or consult with an attorney for further information.


Although you are not required to hire a copyright attorney to register, each state and each country has different laws regarding copyrights, which can become complicated. In addition, certain types of work require special instructions.

For example, although it may not be required that you file certain items during registration, filing them may be advantageous. It may be to your benefit to consult with a licensed attorney in your area to insure that you receive all possible protection.

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