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The Process of Securing a Copyright

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Copyright Application

You have produced a creative work and you decide you want to copyright it. Just by using it in permanent form, your rights are protected. You do not have to formally copyright the work. A creative work is automatically copyrighted when it is "fixed" in a copy or other permanent form for the first time. The use of a copyight notice is not required under U.S. law, but it is a good idea to include the copyright symbol© , the year of first publication, and the copyright owner. Here are the types of works which can be copyrighted:

  • literary works
  • musical works, including any accompanying words
  • dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • movies and audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural works.

Copyright on Publication
A work is considered to be copyrighted when published. The term "publication" has a specific meaning, under the 1976 Copyright Act:

“Publication” is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.

Term of Copyright Protection
Copyright lasts from date of publication through the life of the creator plus 70 years (for works created on or after January 1, 1978).

Registering a Copyright
Although registration is not necessary for a copyright to be protected, there are circumstances under which a copyright might be registered, particularly if the owner must go to court to establish his or her claim. Copyrights are registered with the Library of Congress. A registration application must include:

  1. An application form,
  2. A nonrefundable filing fee, and
  3. A nonrefundable copy of the work being registered.

The three items must be sent to:
Library of Congress Copyright Office 101 Independence Avenue, SE Washington, DC 20559-6000.

Copyright Forms and Fees
The Copyright Office lists its fees in Circular 4 and forms are available on the Forms link.

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