How to copyright digital media

Registering your copyright is how you get the full protection of the law for your creative works. Find out more about how to register your copyright with the US Copyright Office.

by Jane Haskins, Esq.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  2min read

Copyright law was established long before anyone ever thought about digital media, but copyright protects original works in digital media just as it protects works in more traditional media.

Basic rules for copyright protection of digital media

Works in the digital media are subject to the same copyright standard as other types of works:

•    Only original works of authorship are protected. The work must originate with the author and must show some amount of creativity. 
•    The work must be fixed in some tangible medium that can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either by itself or with the aid of a machine. This includes digital media. An idea or a system cannot be copyrighted.

When does copyright protection begin

Copyright protection begins as soon as a work has been created and fixed in a tangible medium. You do not have to register your copyright or place a copyright notice on your work. In general, copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author, plus 70 years after the author’s death.

Digital media rights protected by copyright

•    Copyright is actually a group of rights: A copyright owner has the exclusive right to make copies, sell or distribute copies, to prepare derivative works, to perform the work, and to publicly display the work. In the case of sound recordings, there is also a right to perform the work publicly by digital audio transmission. 

•    Copyright in digital media is a rapidly evolving area of the law as new technologies develop and lawmakers struggle to keep up with the changing nature of the way people access and transmit information online.

Types of digital media that are protected by copyright

•    Digital artwork and photographs 

•    Music created digitally
•    Sound recordings of music, spoken words or other sounds
•    Motion Pictures and other digital video recordings
•    Software programs
•    Websites and website content 

Why should you register a copyright?

Registering the copyright in your digital creations has several advantages:

•    Registration creates a record of your copyright ownership.
•    You must register your copyright before you can sue someone for copyright infringement.
•    If you register your copyright within three months of your work’s publication or before an infringement occurs, you may recover statutory damages and attorneys fees if you win a copyright infringement lawsuit. Statutory damages allow you to avoid the burden of proving your financial loss or the infringer’s profit. 

Registration procedures and deposit requirements

To register a copyright, you must deposit three things with the U.S. Copyright Office:

•    A completed application form. This may be done online or by mailing a paper application. Online applications have faster processing times and lower fees.
•    A filing fee for online and paper applications.
•    A nonrefundable copy or copies of your work. In some instances, copies can be submitted electronically. The copyright office website has details on the number of copies you must submit, the format they must be in, and the ways you can submit them.

LegalZoom will help you protect your digital media by registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Get started today.

Make sure your work is protected START MY REGISTRATION
Jane Haskins, Esq.

About the Author

Jane Haskins, Esq.

Jane Haskins is a freelance writer who practiced law for 20 years. Jane has litigated a wide variety of business dispute… 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.