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Should I register my copyright?

People who have written a paper, composed a piece of music, or created a work often ask if they should register their copyright.  The simple answer is: "It depends."  

Copyright registration is not required to get a copyright in the United States or most other countries.  Since 1978, authors in the US have automatically had copyrights in any original work, from the instant they have "fixed" it -- written it down, committed it to print, recording, or any format, electronic or print.  It's not necessary to register the copyright any more, or even to include a copyright notice with the famous (c) symbol. 

With a copyright comes all the "exclusive rights" of a copyright holder: the right to authorize whether and how a work can be reproduced or distributed, have derivative works made, or be publicly performed or displayed.  Rightsholders can license their works; send cease and desist or demand letters to unauthorized users; or sell or give away their copyrights.

But, copyright registration offers certain advantages.  Copyright registration is required before suing in the US -- the US court wants to be sure that rightsholders are on record as being the rightsholder.  And timely copyright registration permits rightsholders who win a copyright infringement case to receive "statutory damages" -- amounts ranging up to as much as $150,000 for willful infringements of individual works, without having to demonstrate any harms.  

Copyright does not give an author the right of "attribution", so it's not an armament against plagiarism, per se, unless the plagiarist has committed copyright infringement.  Copyright also does not 

Copyright registration is relatively inexpensive, and for an individual document, can be done online at the Copyight Office website (http://copyright.gov/ ).  

 

 

Last Edited: 13 August 2014