(This is worth reading)
In my note entitled Copyright Protection I have described copyright as the weakest form of protection for intellectual property rights. However, when in doubt, in pays to register your copyright. It is a relatively easy and inexpensive process. It can now be done on line with a credit card or payment through an ACH transfer.
As an overview, registration requires submitting a two page form, a $45 check, and at least one copy of your work (picture, story, photo of sculpture, etc.)
The Copyright Office has attempted to provide easy to follow directions through the Library of Congress website www.loc.gov. or www.copyright.gov
It is important to file for registration prior to the first publication of the work. There is a three month grace period to file after the first publication and still be entitled to claim minimum statutory damages against an infringer. As stated in my article entitled Copyright Protection, I define publication as the date the work is first made available on an unrestricted basis. Posting your work on the Internet would constitute publication.
Publication is an unrestricted showing or sale of the work.
What is important is that if your copyright is registered, you are entitled to minimum statutory damages in the event the work is infringed. These minimum statutory damages are discussed below.
To register your work, you are going to need to have:
a title to your work,
a brief description of work,
name of the author,
a statement whether the work was made for hire* (if you made the work for hire, you may not be able to list yourself as the copyright claimant.) and whether the work was created anonymously or under a pseudonym.
Note the form allows the listing of multiple authors.
You will also need the date the work was first created and the date of publication (if applicable).
You will need to state whether the work has been previously registered for copyright or whether there work is a derivative work of a previously registered work.
*A “work made for hire” is defined as a work prepare by an employee within the scope of his or her employment or a work specifically ordered or commissioned if the parties expressly agreed in a writing signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.
There is also a deposit requirement. The number of the samples or specimens of the work varies with the nature of the work. For a literary work (story, poem, etc.) one copy is required if the work is unpublished and two copies of the “best edition” are required if the work has been published. If you are registering an unpublished version, then a simple typed and stapled copy will be sufficient. You will not need to re-register the work if you later make final minor edits. However, if you later add a chapter or similar substantial revisions to the work, then you will need to register the work a second time. You will need to identify (in general terms only) the changes made when registering the work for the second time.
Recently, the Copyright Office has begun to accept applications for registration via the Internet. You will need to use for eCO. This form requests much of the same information requested by forms TX, VA or PA.
For literary work submitted by mail, you may still use use form TX.
For a work of visual art, such as jewelry, photo, drawing, 3 dimensional sculpture, you may use Form VA. The information required for this form is essentially the same as described above. The deposit requirements vary, however. For example, in many cases, identifying material can be substituted for the actual work. If the work is 3-dimensional or a picture inseparable from a 3-dimensional work such as a silk screen label, then a photo may be substituted. If the work is in color, the photo should be in color. The photo should not be smaller than 3×3 or larger than 9×12. The title of the work must be stated on the back of the photo and the exact measurements of one or more dimensions of the work must be stated. Note that multiple photos may be required to show all features (perspectives) of the 3 dimensional work.
For sound recordings, the procedure is more complex. If you have written a song with words and music and wish to protect the underlying music (in contrast to a particular performance of the song) then you need to register the work on form PA. You can submit a CD recording of the music being played and words being sung. However you have not protected that particular performance of the music.
If you have recorded a song and you want to record the sound recording, then you need to record the copyright using the form SR. The performer is considered the author but the description of authorship must contain the words “sound recording”, “performance” or “production”. The deposit requirement may be 2 copies if the work has been published or only one copy if unpublished.
In summary, the procedure is “relatively” easy. The work should still be marked with the traditional copyright symbol, year published and author.
You can use the form eCO and submit the application via the Internet and separately mail the sample of the work. A shipping label can be printed directly from the eCO online application. It is recommended the the sample be packaged in a box rather that an envelope. Use the shipping label (matching the sample with the application filed online).
Statutory damages can be as much as $30,000 per infringement and, if proven to be willful infringement, as much as $150,000. You may also be entitled to attorneys fees. Your entitlement to minimum damages without showing actual loss creates a large incentive for the infringer to stop.