Frequently Asked Questions

Copyright Basics

What is a copyright?
Copyrights protect any original work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium.
What kinds of “works” are eligible?
According to the U.S. Copyright Office, a copyright “protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture” - even the copy on this website!
How long does a copyright last?
Copyright protection runs for the life of the author plus 70 years.
How do I register my copyright?
The author’s copyright accrues when the work is created and fixed in a tangible medium.   However, a copyright must be registered with the Copyright Office before the owner may sue infringers under the Copyright Act.
To register a copyright you need to submit:
  • a complete application (registration portal is available here);
  • the government filing fee ($35 for applicants registering a single work made by a sole author and not made for hire); and
  • a deposit, e.g. a copy of the work.
The complete fee schedule is available here.
Are copyright applications examined?
Copyright applications are not examined like patent and trademark applications.  However, copyright applications may be refused if they do not meet the legal requirements under the Copyright Act, for example if the work is not subject mater eligible.  “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”
Should I register my copyright?  
Copyright registration has a number of benefits.  Registration establishes a fact record of your copyright memorialized by a certificate of registration.  If registration occurs within five years of publication, registration is considered prima facie evidence in litigation, i.e. certain facts will be presumed unless and until the adverse party bears the burden of rebutting those facts.  Additionally if you successfully prove copyright infringement in court you may be eligible for statutory damages AND attorney’s fees.  Finally, the government fee for a copyright registration is inexpensive, especially in comparison to the government fee for patent and trademark applications.  In sum, your small investment will more than pay for itself if you do have to enforce your rights pursuant to the Copyright Act. More information is available here.To register a copyright you need to submit:
Can I protect my copyright internationally?
The United States is a signatory to the Berne Convention – the international copyright treaty – and has eliminated the formal requirements, like filing an application for registration, to establish copyright rights. Accordingly, you can assert your copyright rights in Berne Convention jurisdictions with or without registering with the Copyright Office.