First, lets start with the basics—what is a copyright? A copyright is the bundle of rights (to sell, license, reproduce, display, print, publish, perform, or record) over a creative work, including literary, artistic, or musical works. A copyright is NOT a trademark (image, symbol, name, logo, or slogan) and it is not a patent (which protects a design, utility, method, or plant).
You might be wondering why you even need to register a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, since you automatically have copyright protections over your work as soon as your memorialize your creative work in a tangible format (aka you write it down, record the song, paint the painting, save the file, etc.).
The answer is simple—you want the world to be put on notice that you value you work and plan to protect it. By registering the copyright over your work, you can seek statutory damages or attorneys’ fees if someone steals your work and violates your copyright, making it much easier to enforce than a non-registered copyright.
Step 1: Search the Copyright Database.
Now that you’ve determined that you actually need to register the copyright, the very first step is to search the copyright database to check that the copyright you want isn’t taken by someone else.
Step 2: Choose a Single or Standard Application.
You should only file a single application if: you created one piece of work (one poem, one song, one photograph, one short story, one motion picture.) and the work is not “joint” or “made for hire.”
You should file a standard application for all other purposes, such as if you have a set of songs or recordings, a collection of written content (like blog posts), or a collection of artwork. Standard applications can be a much more efficient way to register a large volume of work.
Step 3: File Online
Once you have determined that what kind of application to file, now its time to fill out the actual application. Try to file online instead of mailing in a paper application—they are less expensive and are processed faster. Online Single applications are $35 and standard applications are $55, while paper applications are $85.
There are eight sections in the copyright application: (1) information about the work, (2) author information, (3) information about the person claiming the copyright, (4) limitation of copyright claim, (5) rights and permission contact, (6) correspondence contact, (7) designation of where to mail the certificate, and finally (8) certification. You’ll want to create an account with the copyright website to check back on your application and check the status.
Expect to be filling out a giant form.
You will also need to submit an electronic file of your work, if you are copyrighting a website, image, musical recording, or a piece of artwork, for example.
In some cases (for works distributed electronically only), you don’t need to send hard copies too. But for certain works, after you’ve submitted everything online, you also need to send two (2) hard copies copy of the copyrighted work to the following address:
Library of Congress
101 Independence Avenue, SE.
Washington, D.C. 20559 6000
Step 4: Wait.
Once the Copyright Office has received your application, your registration will become effective as of that day. But be patient—the Copyright Office gets approximately 2,400 applications per day, so the whole process can take 4 months up to 8-13 months.
According to the Copyright Office’s website, once they process your $35, a member of their staff will examine your application to ensure that it meets the requirements of copyright law. At that point, if everything goes well, you will finally receive a registration number and your registration certificate in the mail.