Can you sue someone for copyright infringement if your work is not federally registered beforehand?
Yes, but with reservations. As a copyright holder, you do not have the power to sue anyone to enforce that right until the work is federally registered
. That said, a work can be registered at anytime, before or after infringement.
For example, if something you published 10 years ago was copied and posted online tomorrow, you could register it next week and you would still be able to sue.
The main problem you will confront if you register after infringement is that you won't be able to get statutory damages (the high-level damages that make difficult-to-prove copyright cases worth fighting in court). That said, the statute provides a bit of leeway (3 months from the date of publication) when works can be registered even after infringement and statutory damages can still be recovered.
If you are considering initiating a copyright lawsuit or if you just have questions about federal copyright registration in general, 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.