III. How do you get a copyright?

III. How do you get a copyright?

To recap, copyright is the legal right that creators have to copy and distribute their work and temporarily disallow others from copying, changing or distributing their work. Its purpose is to benefit the public at large by encouraging creative work. This encouragement comes from granting creators the temporary right to control copies of their work, including the right to prevent others from copying it. This in turn allows the creator to control distributions of her work, thus allowing the creator to profit. It’s assumed that allowing creators to make money like this will be enough incentive to keep creators creating for the benefit of the public. Copyright law balances the need for protection with the need for the public to freely use creative work by not protecting ideas, facts, unfixed expressions, or work that isn’t remotely original.

Copyright law protects works instantly, as soon as it’s created. This makes sense because the point of the laws would be compromised if someone’s work could be found, copied, and distributed by another before that person received the law’s protection. You do not need to take any affirmative steps to get protection. You don’t even need to finish your work to get protection; the law protects you as you create. All you must do is be creative and meet the relatively loose requirements and you’re protected.

For example, copyright is protecting this sentence as I’m writing it. And now this sentence is copyright protected, too. And this one. And so on, and so on…

The U.S. Copyright Office provides an optional, formal registration process that increases your ability to enforce your rights to your work.  Creators who commercially exploit their work should consider federal registration. Though there are several benefits to registration, the biggest benefit is that you can only sue someone who infringes your copyright after you formally register. You can formally register at any time, but there are also benefits to registering either before publication or shortly after publication.

There are also drawbacks to formal registration. One drawback is that it costs $35 per work. This can add up to be quite a bit if you’re a prolific blogger and someone recommends you protect your posts individually or if you’re a photographer who creates new sets daily.

If your work is significantly changed, you must update your registration. Updating takes time and administrative resources. You must fill out a form accurately and send in a physical copy of your work to the copyright office. You will also have to pay the $35 fee again, and it may cost money if the update is handled by an attorney.

If you have a question about whether or not your work is already protected and whether you should formally register your work with the Copyright Office, 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.


Frequently asked questions about how you get a copyright?


What are the benefits of federal registration?

How can you find out if a work has an official copyright with the US Copyright Office?

How do I find the copyright holder?

How do I copyright the book I wrote?

What types of things are protected by copyright?

If I pay someone to create something for me, do I own the copyright to the work?

Do I own the copyright to the blogs that I write for my job?

What is needed to credit copyright holder properly?

How do you copyright your music?

Who owns the copyright of a song that I co-wrote with someone else?

Are there any legal issues that might arise from writing a song with another person?

How are music royalties given?

Who owns the copyright to a song?

How much does it cost to register a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office?

Do you have to register a copyright for your work to be protected under copyright law?

Can I register my work myself to avoid having to pay a lawyer?

Does software labeled as freeware have a copyright?

What is required from open source licenses?


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