From the moment you create an original work, you legally have copyright over it. Despite this, it's a good idea to register a copyright for your work. Fortunately, registering a copyright is usually an easy process that you can do yourself.
Do you need a copyright?
As the creator of an original work, you automatically have copyright over your work as soon as it's been expressed in a fixed form. Having copyright means that you, as the author, have exclusive rights over the work. These rights include:
- Right to reproduce or otherwise make copies of the work
- Right to publicly distribute or display the work
- Right to make derivative works that are based on (or derived from) from the work
- Right to publicly perform the work
Since you already hold copyright over your original work, the important question isn't whether you need a copyright but whether you should register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Should you register your copyright?
The answer to the question of whether you should register your copyright over your original work is a resounding yes. Regardless of your future plans for your creative piece, you gain a number of advantages as a result of registering your copyright to the work.
- Infringement lawsuits: This is probably the biggest benefit to registering your copyright. Simply owning copyright over your original work doesn't help if someone infringes on your copyright. In order for you to bring an infringement lawsuit against someone, your copyright needs to be registered.
- Public record: By registering your copyright, your ownership of that copyright is on public record and it becomes harder for anyone to claim that they accidentally infringed on your copyright because they didn't realize you owned it. Plus, if someone wants to use the work, it's easier for them to find you to ask for permission.
- Statutory damages: Registering your copyright before someone infringes on your work (or registering when you publish your work or within three months of publication) means you will also be able to ask for statutory damages, attorney fees, and other court costs.
When do you need an attorney for a copyright?
In many cases, registering your copyright is something you can do on your own, without the help of an attorney or other intellectual property expert. Other times, it makes sense to hire an attorney.
Even though copyright registration is generally a simple process, depending on your particular circumstances you may want to consult with an attorney experienced in intellectual property matters.
For example, if you are one of multiple authors of a work, the registration process can be trickier to navigate. An intellectual property lawyer can help you with any issues that arise during the registration process. One way to determine if you would benefit from an expert's advice is to go through the form you need to fill out. If you are not certain about how to answer any of the form's fields, it might be a good idea to consult with an attorney.
Going beyond copyright registration, it's also advisable to speak with a copyright expert if you have plans to sell or assign your rights over your work. For example, if you wish to license your work, an experienced attorney can help you with all aspects of copyright licensing.
Even though you obtain copyright over your original work from the moment you've expressed it in fixed form, registering your copyright, and doing it correctly, is still important.