This section of the website is intended to answer copyright-related questions from individual creators, small business owners, and members of the public about copyright law in an FAQ format. The information on these pages, like the information on the rest of the website, should be used solely for educational purposes as it does not constitute legal advice. We urge creators who are looking for more detailed answers to their questions or assistance that goes beyond these copyright questions and answers to consult an attorney or a volunteer lawyer for the arts or law clinic for help. If there are particular questions that we do not address in this section or in our Copyright Law Explained section, please share them with us and we will try to post an answer to them.
Copyright and Other Forms of Intellectual Property
- What is copyright?
- How does copyright work?
- What is the difference between copyright, patent and trademark?
- How is copyright different than a patent or trademark?
- How can I copyright the name of my band?
- Do copyright laws apply on the internet?
- When is my work protected by a copyright?
What does Copyright Protect?
- What types of things can you copyright?
- Are works by the U.S. government protected by copyright?
- What types of dances are copyrightable?
- Do I need to place a copyright notice on my work, and if so, how do I do it?
- Is there any value in marking an image with a copyright symbol?
- Is there any value in signing and dating an image?
- What does it mean when a creative work has “All Rights Reserved” attached to it?
The Public Domain
- Is it difficult to determine whether a work is in the public domain? Are works made before a certain date a part of the public domain with absolute certainty? Are there any other relevant dates or rules to determine whether a work belongs to the public do
- Am I allowed to use archived or public domain works that are found online?
- Can works that have fallen into the public domain be freely used?
Copyright Registration, Generally
- How do I get copies of my copyright registrations filed from 20 years ago?
- How do I copyright my paintings?
- How do I register my claims to copyright?
- How do you register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office?
- How do I obtain a copyright?
- Several poems from my book were previously published, should these poems be registered individually?
- I have this idea for a phone app, and have written out a description of the product, and have drawn some potential interface layouts. Should I register my idea with the U.S. Copyright Office?
- Is there such a thing as the “poor man’s copyright”? If not, does the postmark date provide a creator any value?
- If an image is inside of a registered work, like a book, is the image also registered? Similarly, if the registered book required a renewal registration, is the image’s registration also renewed?
- Do you have to be an American citizen to be able to register works with the Copyright Office?
Timing and Fees
- At what point in the creative process do you register a copyrighted work that is continuously being updated or revised, like a screenplay?
- Do you have any recommendations for saving money or moving a registration application more quickly through the registration process? Are there any common mistakes by registrants that can be easily avoided?
- What is the rationale for increasing registration fees?
- Is the Copyright Office considering having a subscription option for fees, where a creator can register an unlimited number of works for one annual payment?
- Is there a way to expedite the process for receiving a Certificate of Registration, and how long does that process take?
- Photographers are regularly modifying old photographs, so at what point would a photograph need to be re-registered?
- If an author has a pending application with the Copyright Office, and now needs to expedite the process, can they do this?
Completing the Application
- Does the Copyright Office continue to recommend including content titles for their unpublished works?
- Do I have to use my legal name to register a work?
- If I fail to list the date of 1st publication, does that invalidate the registration even if they get their certificate in the mail?
- If a creator uses works in the public domain (e.g. Shakespeare play, the Bill of Rights, etc.), how does this affect the copyright registration application process?
- How long will I have to finish my online registration application once I’ve started it? In other words, is my application deleted if it is not submitted within a certain period of time?
- Who is the best person to contact if there are problems with my specific application? For example, I have had problems with registrations being either lost or fraught with inaccuracies?
- Can We Get Rid of the 750 Image Limit Per Registration of Groups of Published Images?
- When I’m registering a group of photographs, is it better to submit individual images, or should the images be grouped together on a one-page PDF file? If individual files are preferred, what is the best file size and type to deposit?
- Since the application for registration requires the deposit to be the “best edition” of a work, what kind of deposit does the Copyright Office recommend for an online-only publication?
- We have been unsuccessful in depositing electronic copies of images, so we deposit by mail. Are there any plans to upgrade or simplify the technology to handle mass deposit needs?
- What’s the best way to go about registering hundreds or thousands of photographs? There seem to be some limits on what you can submit as a batch. Can you clarify what the limits are, if any?
Registration Adjustments and Mistakes
- How Do I Update my Address with the Copyright Office?
- Do I Have to Re-Register a Musical Work to Show Changes in the Gender of Performer?
- Is It Possible to Change the Title of a Work That I’ve Registered?
- What Happens if a Photographer Either Incorrectly/Incompletely Submits an Application for Registration?
- What Rights Do I Have to Prevent my Co-Writer to Change Our Copyright Registration?
- I Registered a Sound Recording Copyright in 1988. I Am Listed as The Creator, But The Copyright Was Placed in My Now Deceased Mother’s Name, as It Was a Gift to Her.
- If I have made a mistake on my registration (e.g. wrong date of publication, etc.) or I have noticed a mistake made by the Copyright Office, must I notify the Copyright Office for the registration to be valid? And, if so, how should I go about correcting this information?
Published V. Unpublished
- I would like to register images from my archives. As a commercial photographer, it is impossible to determine when images have been published by clients.
- What is the difference between “Published” vs. “Unpublished” works, why does it matter, and how does the difference relate to Online vs. Print publishing?
- What is the best method to register when I have hundreds of unpublished images from over the years, but I have no idea when they were taken?
- What is the best way to register when I have hundreds of published images that I’ve taken this year?
- What is the best way to register when I have hundreds of published images from over the years, but I have no idea when they were taken?
- What is the Copyright Office policy regarding registration of published and unpublished works?
- What is the Copyright Office’s definition of “published”?
- It is unclear to many photographers what types of mediums or transactions make an image published for registration purposes? Which of the following scenarios would make an image published?
- If I license an image to a client that is actually incorporated into a published work, is the publication date the date it was published or the date I sent the image to the client?
- What is the rationale for having separate registration applications for published and unpublished works?
- Is There a Bulk Submission Option for Composers Who Wish to Register a Large Number of Compositions?
Benefits of Registering
- What are the benefits of registering my work? I thought I owned my work as soon as I create it, so why do I need to pay money to register it?
- Do I have to register with the Copyright Office to be protected?
- What are statutory damages and why do they matter?
- Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?
- If a photograph was previously registered inside of a collection or a group, and has now gained independent success, should the image be re-registered as a single work to maximize the benefits of registration?
- Do I have the right to use photographs taken by my late father in the 60s and 70s in a book?
- What does it mean when a work is “Made for Hire”?
- Why does it matter if a work is “Made for Hire”?
- What rights do copyright owners have?
- I’m making a short film and want to add music, but how am I supposed to contact famous artists to get permission?
- What is copyright licensing?
- How do I obtain permission to use works?
- What is a Creative Commons license?
- How do I find out who owns the copyright so I can obtain a license?
- I requested permission from the copyright owner but have not heard back. Can I use the material anyway?
- How to get copyright permission?
Limitations on a Copyright Owner’s Rights
- Why is parody considered fair use but satire isn’t?
- Does the first sale exception apply to licensed copies?
- If a copy is obtained through a legal download can I transfer my copy to someone else under the first sale doctrine?
- What is fair use?
- How do I know if something is fair use and not copyright infringement?
- Is there a blanket exemption for educational uses or uses by educational institutions?
- Must a creator have a physical Certificate of Registration to bring a lawsuit in federal court?
- Someone is infringing my copyrighted work. Can the Copyright Alliance help me pursue the infringer or stop the infringement?
- Where else can I report copyright infringement?
- I found an article in an online newspaper that I want to share with my colleagues. Can I copy and paste the article into my company’s internal newsletter or upload it onto the company’s intranet?
- Can I post or upload news articles from an online publication that I subscribe to onto my company’s intranet or network?
- What remedies can I get once I prove that another person infringed my copyright?
- If I didn’t know that what I was doing violated the copyright law, isn’t that a good defense or could I still be found guilty of infringement?
- I found something on the internet I want to use. Do I need permission?
- Is it legal to upload and download copyrighted works to or from a peer-to-peer network?
- If a photographer registers 500 images using either the group registration for published or unpublished photographs, does each image receive individual statutory protection, or is the group only eligible for one single statutory damage award?
- I received a notice saying that my internet connection was used to distribute infringing material but I didn’t know I was uploading copyrighted files.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
- What is the DMCA notice and takedown process?
- How do I send a DMCA notice to get infringing material taken down from a site?
- Can I send a DMCA notice to get material taken down that is not an infringement of my copyrights?
- I want to sue an online infringer but the person posted my material anonymously. How can I find out the identity of infringer?
International Aspects of Copyright
- Is my copyright valid and enforceable in other countries?
- Should I register my copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office if I am living outside of the United States or if I am not a U.S. citizen ?
- Do you have to be an American citizen to be able to register works with the Copyright Office?
- If a foreign creator registered her work with her home country, does she receive protection in the United States?
Copyright Claims Board FAQs
- Copyright Claims Board Basics
- Bringing a Claim Before the Copyright Claims Board
- Defending Against a Claim Before the Copyright Claims Board
- Opting Out of a Proceeding Before the Copyright Claims Board
- Copyright Claims Board Processes and Procedures
- Decisions by the Copyright Claims Board
- Costs and Fees Associated with Bringing or Defending a Case Before the CCB