This guide is intended to explain the “basics” of copyright registration and protection.

Ordinarily it takes three to six months to obtain a registration from the Copyright Office.  However, the Copyright Office does offer an expedited procedure for the payment of an additional filing fee.  In that instance it generally takes five working days for registration.

In order to qualify for enhanced protections under the Copyright Law, you are required to file your copyright application within three (3) months of the creation date for your work.  Therefore, please do not delay the filing of your application.


Copyrights are protected by Federal Law particularly Title 17 of the U.S. Code Section 301.  Pursuant to the Berne Convention Implementation Act, U.S. Copyright Law is in harmony with the requirements of the Berne Convention which is made up of 24 nations throughout the world.  Thus, not only is this copyright enforceable in the United States, but it is also enforceable in a country which is a member of the Berne Convention.

A copyright owner has the following rights:

  • To reproduce the copyrighted work and copies or phono records;
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
  • To distribute copies of phono records of the work to the public by sale or other transfer or by rental, lease or lending;
  • In the case of literary, musical dramatic and choreographic works and other audio/visual works to perform and/or display the copyrighted work publicly.

Copyright Law protects the manner in which ides are expressed, not the ideas themselves.


Copyrights are secured automatically when the work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression.  Different versions constitute separate works.  You need not register or publish in order to gain protection of the copyright Laws.  In order for it to be copyrightable the work must be original, fixed in a tangible medium of expression and be a work of authorship.  Originality means that the author must have independently created the work and did not copy it from other works.  There is no novelty requirement.  The Courts have held that anyone can copyright anything if he/she adds something original to its expression.  This addition however must be more than merely trivial.

Fixation in a tangible medium of expression occurs when its embodiment is “sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration.”

Works of authorship range from literary works, musical works, motion pictures, illustrations to computer programs which is a “literary work”.


Specifically with computer software, we advise that you should develop a policy, preferably written which delineates the company’s preference with respect to how its computer software should be protected.  The policy should outline the methods of protection to be employed with each item of computer software developed , used or distributed within the company.  This policy should be reviewed by management in order to make sure that the computer software protection policy is being fully and properly implemented.  Obviously this policy should be explained to all personnel involved in the development, purchase, use or distribution of computer software.  These individuals should be informed of the importance of protecting the computer software and their responsibilities to so protect it.


Copyright protection vests initially in the author or authors of the work.  Authors of a joint work are co-owners of the copyright.  In addition, “works made for hire” i.e. a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment or specially ordered or commissioned by the employer is also subject to the Copyright Laws.  However, in that instance the employer or commissioner of the work made for hire is the author and thus, owns the copyright.

Although a common law copyright exists without registration, in order to bring an action for copyright infringement, it is required that the author first register the work with the Register of Copyrights before filing suit.  Obviously, it is to your advantage to register your copyright with the Register of Copyrights since your options are then greater.  In order to take advantage of your common law copyright, prior to registration, we advise you to use a “©” symbol or “COPR” or “copyright” after the title of a work as well as the date of first publication.  This places the world on notice of your copyright regardless of the status of your copyright application.


In order to prevail in a lawsuit for violation of your copyright, you must prove three elements:

  • the ownership of the copyright;
  • copying of that right; and
  • substantial similarity between the copyrighted work and the allegedly infringing work.

Registration of your copyright within five years of publication constitutes sufficient evidence of the validity of your copyright.  Registration however, unlike trademark registration, does not presumptively mean the work is unique or doesn’t conflict with another copyright.


Should you prevail on a lawsuit involving a violation of your copyright, the infringing party is liable for either the copyright owners actual damages and any profits of the infringer; or statutory damages ranging from $250 to $10,000.  If willfulness is proven, damages may be raised to $50,000 for each infringement.  Injunctive relief is also available to prevent or stop infringements of your copyright.


When producing your work, regardless of the status of your copyright application, we strongly encourage you to do the following:

  • Place conspicuously in or on the work the “©” symbol or the word “copyright” or the abbreviation “COPR”;
  • Include with the above, the year of first publication; and
  • The name of the owner of the copyright. For example:  Copyright ©1993 Herman Melville

This notice should be prominently placed within the work either on the title page or cover and should be consistently used on every copy.


These precautionary steps along with registration should adequately protect your work.  In the case of individuals, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus fifty years.  In the case of a work for hire owned by a company, the protection extends for at least seventy-five years from the year of publication.

Should you wish to proceed and utilize our services to register your copyright, please  contact us.

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