How to copyright a movie or short film

You automatically hold copyright to your movie or short film from the moment its created and put into a fixed form. But registering your copyright is important, as it provides you with the tools to protect your work against infringement.

by Belle Wong, J.D.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  3min read

You hold the copyright to your movie or short film from the moment it's created and fixed in a copy. It's still important, however, to register the copyright, because copyright registration provides additional protection.

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Advantages of copyright registration

Copyrighting your movie or short film gives you a number of exclusive rights over your work, including the right to reproduce and distribute it to the public and to perform the work publicly. But in order to enforce these exclusive rights, you need to properly register your copyright.

The advantages of copyright registration include:

  • The ability to bring an infringement suit. If someone infringes on your rights as the creator of a work, you will need to have registered your copyright in order to file an infringement suit in court.
  • Evidence of validity of copyright. By registering your copyright, you will have established evidence of a valid copyright, as long as registration was made before or within five years of the publication of your work.
  • Statutory damages. If you registered your copyright before an act of infringement, or within three months after the publication of your work, you are eligible for statutory damages, attorney fees, and costs.
  • Importation protection. Registration establishes a record with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, giving you protection from importation of infringing copies of your work.

How to copyright a short film or a movie

There are two ways to apply for the registration of your film or movie copyrights.

Online registration. For most people, online registration is the preferred method of registration. It offers a number of advantages, including the following:

  • lower fees
  • faster application processing time
  • ability to track the status of your application online
  • secure online payment

You can begin the online registration process on the U.S. Copyright Office's motion picture copyright registration page. While the majority of the registration process will be done online, you will need to send in a deposit copy of your work in order to complete your application.

Registration by mail. You can also register your film and movie copyrights using the paper versions of Form PA (Works of the Performing Arts) and, where necessary, Form CON (Continuation Sheet for Paper Applications).

These forms are fill-in PDF files that you can fill out on your computer. They can also be printed out blank, if you prefer to fill out the forms by hand. Once you have completed your application, you will need to mail your forms in, along with a check or money order for the required fee and your deposit copy.

Deposit requirements for registration

Your application is not complete until you meet the mandatory deposit requirement. For published movies or short films, you will need to send in a separate description of your work that outlines its nature and general content, as well as one complete copy of the work.

If you have not yet published your movie or short film, you can send a separate description of the work, along with a copy of the work that contains all the visual and audio elements that will be covered by the copyright registration.

Effective date of copyright registration

The effective date of your copyright registration is not the date on which your application is processed and your registration certificate issued. Instead, the effective date of your registration is the date on which the Copyright Office receives all of the following parts of your application:

  • your completed application form
  • appropriate filing fee
  • a deposit in acceptable form
Make sure your work is protected START MY REGISTRATION
Belle Wong, J.D.

About the Author

Belle Wong, J.D.

Belle Wong, is a freelance writer specializing in small business, personal finance, banking, and tech/SAAS. She spends h… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.