Like all things legal, copyright registration is boring and costs $$ (standard electronic application costs $55). Which is why it tends to sit at the bottom of that never ending “to-do” list that all of us creators make but never get through.
DIY Reality: So much to do, so little time/money
It’s overwhelming to think about all the things us entrepreneurs should be doing. We triage, we do.
Especially when it comes to the legal stuff. We’d be in big trouble if we didn’t file our taxes with a Schedule C, so we figure out mileage, receipts, and home office deductions, no matter how painful. We don’t wanna risk losing our house over a slip n’ fall at our studio, so we form an LLC to shield us from personal liability. We should also be registering our copyrights. Make it a regular part of business; ideally right after the work is done.
It’s true that you’re the lawful owner of your creative work as soon as you fix it into a tangible medium of expression. To be the copyright holder of a song, book, play, movie, or painting, you just have to record it or put it down on paper. Make it tangible, a record, evidence of your work.
“However, the most significant benefits afforded under the Copyright Act attach only when a work has been registered with the Copyright Office,” says Rob Kasunic, Director of Registration Policy and Practices at the U.S. Copyright Office.
BENEFITS OF REGISTRATION
#1 To file a lawsuit for copyright infringement in federal court, you need to first obtain a certificate of copyright registration OR a formal written refusal from the U.S. Copyright Office
#2 Creators wishing to elect statutory damages ($750-$150,000, depending) OR be eligible for attorney’s fees must also register their work. [Not every plaintiff or defendant is awarded attorney’s fees—the Supreme Court JUST weighed in on what the national test should be in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley]
#3 It creates a public record of authorship & ownership. If you register a work within 5 years of publication, the courts presume the copyright is legit!
#4 People wanting to license your work will be able to find your contact information
Don’t worry, it’s still possible to get into court without registering your work ahead of time, but it’s less certain and can impact your damages award. Plus, you’ll have to register the work no matter what (and it costs a lot of money to expedite the process), so might as well do it early to maximize your position.
Copyrights aren’t liberties, they’re exclusive rights provided by Congress, and just like forming an LLC or a getting a license to drive, there is a formal registration process to get through. This registration process helps the U.S. Copyright Office archive our cultural history and perform other critical functions. So, if finances permit, try to move the “Register your copyrights” up there with “File taxes.” It’s basically the cheapest insurance you can buy to protect your work, your business, and your livelihood.
If you can afford it, you can hire an attorney to do this for you, but many artists have to DIY just like everything else. I’ll help you out a bit.
TO DIY COPYRIGHT REGISTRATION
Start by creating an eCO registration profile, and following the instructions provided by the Copyright Office for your kind of art.
Fill out an application, deposit 2 physical copies of the work (or an electronic copy, depending) and pay the fee.
Be mindful of some money-savers like registering works in a group instead of individually.
Look over all the on-point, relevant Questions & Answers with Mr. Kasunic.
This blog post originally appeared on Medium.