Understanding the copyright registration process

Registration is not required, but registering a copyright can have important advantages, including allowing you to sue others for copyright infringement.

by Jane Haskins, Esq.
updated March 15, 2023 ·  3min read

Registration is a procedure for creating a record of your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Upon registration, the U.S. Copyright Office will send you a certificate confirming your registration.

A guy with a giant pen beside a giant phone

Whn will my copyright registration take eEffect?

A copyright registration is effective on the date the copyright office receives all of the required materials for registration. You don’t need to wait until you receive a registration certificate from the copyright office.

Contents of a copyright registration application

To register a copyright, you must submit three things to the Copyright Office:

  • A completed application form. In most instances, you can submit an online form or mail a paper form. Online applications have lower filing fees and faster processing times than paper applications.
  • A filing fee for online forms or paper forms.
  • Copies of the work you are registering.

In general, you must submit one copy of an unpublished work or a work that was first published outside the United States, and two copies of a published work.

Before submitting a copyright registration 

You should confirm the number of copies you need to deposit and check to see if there are special deposit requirements for the type of work you want to register before submitting your registration. 

For example, to register a motion picture, you must deposit a copy of the motion picture and a separate written description of its contents. Details about these requirements can be found on the copyright office website or by writing or calling the copyright office.

The copyright office will not return the copies you deposit with them.

Registering a copyright online

You can register a copyright online by logging in to the copyright office’s online registration system, filling out the registration form, and submitting payment. In some cases, you can also electronically submit a copy of the work you are registering.

Types of copyrights that can be registered online

Basic copyrights can be registered online. These include copyrights for literary works, visual arts works, performing arts works, sound recordings, and motion pictures. You can register a copyright online even if you are planning to mail a copy of the work to the copyright office.

Works that can be deposited electronically

You can submit the following types of work electronically. All other works must be mailed to the copyright office, even if you complete a registration application online.

  • Unpublished works
  • Works that are only published electronically
  • Three-dimensional works for which the deposit requirement is photographs or prints of the actual work.

Registering a copyright by mail

The copyright office has different forms for literary works, visual arts works, performing arts works, sound recordings, and single serials. These forms are available on the copyright office website.

A completed form must be sent in the same package as payment and a copy of the work. Payment must be made by check or money order.

Following up on your registration

If you register your copyright online, you will receive an email confirmation that your registration was received. If you register by mail, you will not receive a confirmation when the copyright office receives your registration.

Many people mail their applications by certified mail, so they will know when the application was received.

You can expect one of three responses to your registration application:

  • If there are questions, you will receive a letter, email, or phone call from the copyright office.
  • If for some reason, your copyright registration is rejected, you will receive a letter explaining why the registration was rejected.
  • If your copyright is registered, you will receive a certificate of registration in the mail. It generally takes anywhere from three to nine months to process an application and issue a certificate.
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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.