If you are on the internet or shopping around, you have probably seen similar, if not the same, artwork in various places. Maybe you have been listening to new music and hear the same tune but with a different artist playing or singing it. This leads you to think “who actually created this work? Who is the author?” Well, this is a common occurrence in the land of copyrighted creative works and shows why it is important to legally protect your work from similar issues. Many people think that once something is created it is automatically protected by copyright laws, however that is not always the case. In order to have your work fully protected and have the ability to file a copyright infringement claim, you must register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. The ultimate answer to how and why you should have your works legally registered depends on whether you want your work to be protected from others. In this blog post, I will go over why it is important to legally register your work, how to do it, and how to defend your work if someone tries to infringe your exclusive rights as a creative owner.
Do I Need to Register a Copyright or a Trademark?
What is a Copyright?
A copyright is U.S. Federal law that protects “an original work of authorship” that has been fixed in a tangible medium which has been independently created and possesses some level of creativity, this includes photographs, paintings, music, recordings, films, prints, literature, or any other type of creative work. One easy example of a copyrighted work is the Harry Potter novels, which are J.K. Rowlings ideas written out in book format (the book becomes the ‘tangible medium’). In order to have a work copyrighted you have to go through steps required by the United States Copyright Office. This process requires you to show the work is “an original work of authorship”, provide a copy of your work, and pay the related fees. For more information on copyrights visit U.S. Copyright Office’s official website.
What is a Trademark?
Under intellectual property, there are two types of intellectual property that can be easily confused: Trademarks and copyrights. A trademark can be any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services. Alternatively, the copyright is designated specifically to creative works. If you are still a little confused, you can refer to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website for this helpful chart.
How To Register Your Copyrightable Work
Now that you have cleared up whether you need a copyright or trademark for your business, it is time to move on to the actual copyright registration process. You can do this by following these easy steps:
- Check the Copyright Public Catalog official site to ensure the work you are submitting has not already been registered by someone else.
- Complete the proper forms on the U.S. Copyright Office’s official website under basic registration forms. Due to there being various types of creative works, it is critical you submit the correct form otherwise it will likely not be accepted.
- Pay the required filing fees listed for copyrighted works. When you have the fees paid and documents ready, it is time to submit your copyright request either electronically or by mail. If you still have questions, you can find helpful registration tutorial videos here!
Why should you have your work officially registered with the U.S. Copyright Office?
Whenever a work is created it is automatically copyrighted material. The rule of duration for copyrighted works is the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. You may be thinking “why should I legally register my work if it is automatically seen as a copyright once it is created?” There are many benefits to having your work legally copyrighted and recognized by the U.S. Copyright Office. Thebiggest benefit is you have complete protection from copyright infringement if someone else tries to copy your work. For example, if someone is trying to take credit for your work or use it, you can file a copyright claim against the other party. Additionally, it gives you the legal and exclusive right as the owner to control how your creative work is being used. If your work is not legally copyrighted you cannot file a copyright infringement at all and do not have the protection provided by the U.S. Copyright Office.
How do you defend your copyright once it's registered?
While again noting that you can only defend your copyright if it is legally registered, there are a few ways you can protect your work under copyright law.
- You can file a claim with the U.S. Copyright Office on their official website specifically for copyright infringement. You will need to provide documentation showing that you are the legal owner of the work and how your work is being misused.
- Another route is to deliver a Cease and Desist letter which will usually include an Assertion of Rights section. A Cease and Desist letter will provide a legal warning that a business or party needs to stop infringing upon your copyright and if not you will bring a claim. Make sure to include in your C&D an ‘Assertion of Rights’ section that will inform the infringer you have specific and registered rights to the copyright. It is important to include this section, because if you do not assert your rights then a court may find that you were fine with the other party using your work. When distributing these letters you will want to make sure that it is on public record, the easiest way to do this is to send them by certified mail or through an attorney. If you need help sending it by certified mail you can find information on the U.S. Postal Service official site.
If you find this all to be difficult and confusing, seek legal counsel to help point you in the right direction. I’ve found that having a lawyer represent you through copyright infringement matters helps move the process along quicker and provides a legitimate source to send C&Ds to infringers (aka someone who is infringing on your copyrighted work is more likely to listen to an attorney than to you).
If you are wondering whether or not it is worth legally registering your work, you need to ask yourself if it is worth a potential infringement in the future. If you find that you are not overly worried if someone uses your work then you are probably fine staying where you are and holding onto some common law rights to your copyright. However, if you do not want someone else using your work and claiming it as their own, AND want the ability to keep infringers away from your copyrighted work, it is the safest route to have it properly and legally registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to make sure you are covered from copyright infringement.
THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. EVERY SITUATION IS DIFFERENT & IS FACT-SPECIFIC. A proper legal analysis is necessary based on your location and contract. Consult an attorney in your home state for advice regarding your contract or specific legal situation.