To register a copyright, an application must be filed with the copyright office along with a filing fee and copies of the work. Copyrights are often registered using the Copyright Office’s online application, called eCO. You can use the Copyright Office’s website or another online service to file your copyright application.
Online Copyright Registration
Copyright applications are often filed online using the Copyright Office's website. You will be required to create an account (or log into your account if you already have one), log into the eCO system, and fill out your application. Copies of your copyrighted materials may be required to be uploaded during the process. You can file an application online for the following types of work:
- Literary Work
- Work of the Visual Arts
- Sound Recording
- Work of the Performing Arts
- Motion Picture / Audiovisual Work
- Single Issue Serial
- Group of Serial Issues
- Group of Newspaper Issues
- Group of Newsletter Issues
If you choose to register your copyright with a paper application, you can download the requisite form from the Copyright Office website. However, do note that paper applications have a higher filing fee and a slower processing time.
Filing fees range from $30 to about $150, depending on the type of work you’re submitting for registration, and whether you are filing with an online or paper application. Filing fees are subject to change. Visit the Copyright Office website to obtain the most current filing fees.
The fee is considered a filing fee and not a registration fee, so if the application is rejected for any reason, the fee is not refundable.
Copies of the Work
A required component of the copyright registration application is the submittal of a nonreturnable deposit (i.e. a copy or copies of the work being registered and “deposited” with the Copyright Office). If filing your copyright registration application online, you can often attach an electronic copy of your deposit.
If you do not have an electronic copy, or if you are required to send a hard copy or copies of your deposit, it is important to pay attention to the rules that apply to different types of works. The general requirements are as follows:
- If the work has not yet been published, one complete copy or phonorecord must be submitted.
- If the work was first published in the United States on or after January 1, 1978, then two complete copies of the best edition of the work must be submitted.
- If the work was first published in the United States before January 1, 1978, two complete copies of the work as first published must be submitted.
- If the work was first published outside of the United States, one copy of the work as first published must be submitted.
Special Deposit Exceptions
The copyright office has made some exceptions to the basic rules for deposits, and special requirements exist for many types of works. Some examples of exceptions are as follows:
For works that exceed ninety-six inches in any dimension, you must deposit a drawing, transparency, or photograph (preferably 8 x 10 inches).
Limited Audience Works
For nondramatic literary works such as speeches, sermons, lectures, tests and answers, only one copy is necessary.
For computer programs, it is possible to send in only identifying portions of the work. This is usually the first twenty-five pages and the last twenty-five pages of the source code of the program in a visually perceptible format along with the page containing the copyright notice.
Visual & Three Dimensional Works
For works such as sculptures, identifying material such as a photograph of the work must be submitted instead of physical copies.
For sound recordings, the visual or written material included with the recording must also be included with the deposit.
It must be remembered that a sound recording includes two separate works, the underlying composition and the actual rendition of the sounds. Each of these can be copyrighted separately or they can be copyrighted together.
Receiving Your Certificate
The Copyright Office receives approximately 700,000 applications per year, making the registration processing time substantial. For e-Filings, generally, the processing time can be up to 8 months. For paper forms, generally, the processing time can be up to 13 months. For works that are determined to be copyrightable and that meet all registration requirements, the effective date of registration is the date the Copyright Office received the completed application, payment, and deposit of the work. For such works, you do not need to wait for a certificate before proceeding with publication.
If you have a special reason for needing your certificate (such as a pending lawsuit) you can request expedited service. There is a special handling fee for this, in addition to the normal filing fee.