The moment you create and write down, record, photograph or otherwise “fix” your creative work in “any tangible medium of expression,” you automatically have copyright protection in that work under the United States Copyright Act. Although filing an application for registration of your work with the U.S. Copyright Office is not required for this protection, the benefits of registration could be substantial.
For example, if you wait until your work has been infringed and the infringement occurs more than 3 months after you first made the work publicly available, then you will not be able to obtain statutory damages or attorney’s fees for the infringement, and you’ll have to prove actual damages instead. This can make or break your chances of recovering any money from the infringer, as actual damages can be difficult to prove and may not exist in certain situations.
Additionally, before you can bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement, you must have a copyright registration for the work that has been infringed. This means that you could end up filing a copyright application after the infringement occurs and end up paying a much higher filing fee without the main benefits you would have had had you filed the application before the infringement occurred.
Here’s a list of some of the benefits of registration:
- If registration is made within 3 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.
- Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U. S. origin.
- Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
- If made before or within 5 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.
- 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.
Registration may be made at any time within the life of the copyright. An application for copyright registration contains three essential elements: (1) a completed application form, (2) a nonrefundable filing fee ($35-$55), and (3) a nonreturnable deposit—that is, a copy or copies of the work being registered and “deposited” with the Copyright Office.
As the U.S. is a member to a number of international treaties related to copyright protection, your U.S. copyright rights will be recognized in most countries throughout the world, and vice versa.