The important things to know about copyright are why it is necessary and how to secure it. Technically your work may be “protected” as soon as it is published but the rub is that you can't take legal action without the work being formally registered.
1. Your book must be registered before you can file an infringement suit in court.
2. If registration is made within three months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.
3. If made before or within five years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.
What does it cost?
Currently the cost to register a copyright electronically is $35 ($65 if submitted in writing).
How do you file?
Visit Copyright.gov to fill out the form online and include your book in one of these formats:
- .doc (Microsoft Word Document 2003 or earlier)
- .docx (Microsoft Word Open XML Document)
- .htm, .html (HyperText Markup Language)
- .pdf (Portable Document Format)
- .rtf (Rich Text Document)
- .txt (Text File)
- .wpd (WordPerfect Document)
- .wps (Microsoft Works Word Processor Document, version 9 or earlier)
Why not wait and file if or when someone is infringing?
As of this writing it is taking 3 months to process electronic applications and 10 months to process written applications. If you were to wait and register after discovering an infringement the cost to expedite processing—necessary if you are taking legal action as described in number 1 above—is currently $760. This is in addition to the registration fees. File now to save a bundle and gain piece of mind.
Don't I own the copyright even without having to register?
Yes, but you cannot take legal action unless or until it is registered. (This is sometimes called the “poor man's copyright”.)
Do I really have a chance against a larger or better financed individual or business that steals my work?
With a registered copyright you can collect statutory damages and attorney’s fees if there is a court action (see #2 above). While your case may never get to this point the fact that you can collect these damages and fees is a powerful deterrent to infringing parties.
The above information is not intended to serve as legal counsel and is subject to change at anytime. For more information please read what it says in Circular 1, Copyright Basics available from Copyright.gov.
Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U. S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies. For additional information, go to the U. S. Customs and Border Protection website.