What are the benefits of federal registration?
Formal copyright registration is voluntary and optional. Creators get copyright protection as soon as they create a work that meets the minimum requirements for protection.
(1) Ability to file a lawsuit
Copyright registration is a prerequisite for suing for copyright infringement. Additionally, registration makes a trial quicker and easier for you because you no longer need to prove that you suffered actual monetary damage from someone’s infringement.
(2) Ability to get statutory damages and attorney’s fees
If you register in a timely manner, you’ll be able to get a higher amount of monetary remedy called “statutory damages” from an infringer. These are dollar amounts (between $750 and $150,000 for willful infringement per work) that are set by Congress. You can also potentially be reimbursed for the costs and fees you paid for your lawyers to handle the case.
Copyright infringement trials are often long and expensive. Without statutory damages, the only thing that you would be able to recover for is actual damages, which are usually more difficult to prove. Therefore, without timely registration, even if you do have a legal right to your work, practically you may not be able to afford a lawyer to take your case because your recovery may be less than your attorney’s fees.
Statutory damages will give you up to $150,000 per infringement no matter how much profit the person made from infringing. Additionally, the attorney’s costs and fees, if awarded, could potentially be in the $50,000–$100,000 range, or more.
(3) Ability to add credible claims to cease-and-desist letters that will discourage infringers from continuing their infringement without needing to sue
Even if you don’t ever intend on suing anyone, having the ability to sue and the ability to get large statutory damages are important deterrents to discourage people from infringing.
By registering your work, sending a cease-and-desist letter informs the infringer of three things: you do in fact own the work being infringed, you can receive statutory damages, and you can have your legal fees paid. Thus, the infringer may be more likely to simply agree to stop infringing rather than risk losing a lawsuit and having to pay potentially substantial damages.
If I decide to federally register my work with the Copyright Office, when is the best time to register?
If you do choose to formally register, you must register in a “timely manner” in order to receive many of registration’s benefits. To be “timely,” you must if you register either
(A) prior to an infringement taking place; or
(B) within three months from the first publication date of the work even if the work has already been infringed.
The benefits of Copyright registration take effect when the Copyright Office receives the completed registration application, including the application, fee, and deposit copies. The Office does not need to actually approve the application for the registration to be effective.
Registration is available for both published and unpublished works. However, if you register and then you decide to make material additions or edits to the work you register, you must register again with an updated application and make another payment.
You should be aware that you do not need a lawyer to register your copyright, but if you choose, there are lawyers who will handle your registration for you. For a discussion about whether or not you should attempt file your registration yourself, please read this section of this guide.
If you have a question about whether you should formally register your work with the Copyright Office or when the optimal time to file so would be, 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.