Why you should file a copyright

Until you register a copyright, you can expect limited protection. Here's what you need to know about copyright and registration.

by Crystal Everson, J.D.
updated January 06, 2023 ·  3min read

You have probably heard that as soon as you create a work and record it or write it down, you have copyright protection. This is correct, but the protection is limited. If you want the full range of protections and benefits that copyright law has to offer, registration is the way to go.


What copyright protects

A copyright protects an original artistic, literary, dramatic or musical work. This includes things like paintings, books, songs, movies, software and even advertising copy. Copyright law does not protect ideas. The work must be in a tangible medium. As soon as a work is put into a tangible form, copyright protection automatically applies — no further action is required. To be put in tangible form means that other people can read, see or hear the work.

As the creator of the work, you have the exclusive right to:

  • Distribute or publish the work
  • Make copies of the work
  • Make derivatives of the work
  • Perform the work
  • Display the work

As the creator, you can sell or license any of the rights listed above. But, if anyone attempts to distribute, publish, copy, perform or display the work without your express permission, they will be infringing on the copyright.

They can face legal consequences — whether or not the work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Under current law, the duration of a copyright is the life of the author plus 70 years.

Benefits of copyright registration

While registration of a copyright is not required for legal protection, you may enjoy significant benefits from filing. These include:

  • Public Record. When a copyright is registered, it is published in the U.S. Copyright Office's searchable database. Because it is a public record, it is easy for people to find and see that it is a copyrighted work.
  • Ability to File an Infringement Lawsuit. If your copyright is not registered, you can't file a copyright-infringement lawsuit. 
  • Validity of the Copyright. The registration certificate will provide factual evidence of the validity of your copyright in a copyright-infringement lawsuit.
  • Statutory Damages. Without copyright registration, any financial recovery is limited to actual damages, which can be nominal or difficult to prove. If you register your copyright, you are entitled to statutory damages and attorneys' fees. Statutory damages range from $750 to $30,000. In cases of willful infringement, the amount can be up to $150,000.

The process of copyright registration involves filling out an application form, paying a fee and submitting copies of the work to be registered to the U.S. Copyright Office. You can file a paper application or an online application. Save money and speed up the process by submitting online.

Why copyright registration is important for businesses

Registering a copyright is not just beneficial to creatives and artists. Businesses can also benefit from registering the copyright for important software, company websites, and marketing/advertising materials such as photographs, graphics, and written copy.

If it is vital to your business, you should register the copyright. You will have increased legal protections, and the damages you will recover in a copyright-infringement lawsuit will be higher.

Also, if you have plans to expand your business internationally, you'll want to register your copyright. While there is no such thing as international copyright registration, the United States is a signatory to both the Berne Convention and the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty—international treaties that cover copyright protection. Therefore, any work protected by U.S. copyright law is automatically entitled to the same copyright protection in other countries. Registration is not required but, as noted earlier, only registered copyrights are eligible for statutory damages and attorney and court fees.

Even though it is not mandatory, copyright registration provides valuable legal protection. It makes it easier for other people to find your protected material. It can help you avoid expensive and timely litigation. And it is essential if you ever find yourself filing an infringement lawsuit.

Make sure your work is protected START MY REGISTRATION
Crystal Everson, J.D.

About the Author

Crystal Everson, J.D.

Crystal Everson was admitted to the state bar of New York and has since retired from the practice of law. She holds a Ju… 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.