Can I register my work myself to avoid having to pay a lawyer?
Yes, it is possible for you to register your works yourself with the copyright office. That said, if you do so without a lawyer, you may do it incorrectly and run into significant issues later on.
Some IP lawyers would try to convince you that every single creative work you make has significant unique issues that require legal expertise to ensure proper registration. Others who are more cynical when it comes to the system might argue that there isn’t any type of work that an artist can’t register him or herself without issue.
As with all debates, the real answer lies somewhere in the middle. Someone totally untrained could probably register newly published works (that they are the sole individual author of) issue. Other situations—such as works that have been published for more than 3 months, that have been published and republished in a different form, that have multiple authors, that are registered by businesses or authored by others—may make paying for the expertise of a lawyer worth it.
This may be easier to explain with examples:
An individual photograph that you took yourself. With careful study, a non-lawyer could register this without issue.
A group of unpublished photographs that you took yourself over the last three months. This may still be within the bounds of a non-lawyer, but advice from a lawyer would surely help.
Your business purchased a group of photographs to use in your marketing materials, but they have already been published before and you would now like to register them. The issue that this situation raises would require a very thorough analysis of the situation that a lawyer could provide.
A CD that you recorded in your home studio where you produced and engineered in the recording and the only musician appearing on the CD is you. With careful study, a non-lawyer could register this without issue.
A CD that you recorded with your band in your home studio, where you produced and engineered the recording. The complicated multiple author situation may still be within the bounds of a non-lawyer, but advice from a lawyer would surely help.
A CD that you recorded under contract with a label in a studio where you were not the sole producer or engineer. The murky ownership questions when dealing with multiple authors (the band and the studio) as well as contractual obligations to the label signal a situation that is clearly outside of what a non-lawyer should be registering.
A single painting that you painted for yourself. With careful study, a non-lawyer could register this without issue.
A single painting that a company or another individual commissioned you to paint. Advice from a lawyer would surely help in this situation where another party paid you for your work.
Multiple paintings that you have painted over the course of the last year, some have been in galleries or posted online and some remain unpublished. The varying statuses of the various paintings may require a lawyer to sort out.
A single blog that you posted on your website. With careful study, a non-lawyer could register this without issue.
Multiple blogs written in the last three months for your own website. This may still be within the bounds of a non-lawyer, but advice from a lawyer would surely help.
Multiple blogs written over the last year for a site that you work for, where one or several of your entries have co-authors. The complicated multiple author situation, coupled with the fact that the blogs were written for a website that you work for, would definitely require a lawyer to figure out.
Even though non-lawyers can register their own work, consulting a lawyer may be worthwhile, particularly if you don’t have the time to adequately educate yourself, or if you have the money and want to avoid the risk of registering incorrectly.
If your registration isn’t effective, there may be little to no benefit to registration at all if a dispute with the work ever reached litigation.
If you have a specific work that you would like to formally register with the copyright office but you don’t know if you should pay a lawyer or file the application yourself, feel free to contact New Media Rights via our contact form to find out whether you qualify for free or reduced fee legal services. We also offer competitive full fee legal services on a selective basis. For more information on the services we provide click here.
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