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Copyrights: What They Are and How to Register Them

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Whether you realize it or not, you’re most likely already a copyright owner.

In basic terms, copyrights grants someone legal protection for their “original works of authorship.” This can include a wide variety of works, such as paintings, sculptures, and even software or sound recordings.

It can also include a lot less formal things such as selfies or song lyrics you scribbled on the back of a napkin.

For business owners especially, copyright law has major implications. We’ll be going over how copyright works and how it can benefit you or your company.

What is a Copyright?

A copyright automatically protects any and all originally authored works. It’s different from a trademark, which is used for logos or business names, and a patent, which was designed for inventions or discoveries.

Simply put, you own a copyright as soon as you create something original in a permanent form, meaning it can be “perceived, reproduced, or communicated for more than a short time,” according to the U.S. Copyright Office.

While some rights are immediate and automatic, in order to gain full protection of your work against infringement and retain all rights, it’s important to complete the process of registering with the U.S. Copyright Office.

How to Copyright Your Work

The first step to protecting your work is to head to the U.S. Copyright Office website and create a new account. There are a wide variety of groups available to choose from, so you will need to pick the one most applicable to your work.

Items eligible for copyright protection:

  • Literary works
  • Performing arts
  • Musical works
  • Visual arts
  • Digital content
  • Motion pictures
  • Architectural drawings or plans
  • Photographs

Items not eligible for copyright protection:

  • Names
  • Titles
  • Short phrases
  • Familiar symbols or designs
  • Ideas
  • Procedures
  • Methods
  • Concepts
  • Works consisting entirely of information that is common property

Once you select the appropriate eligible category, you will be taken to an informational page that provides video tutorials along with the applications.

You can apply either online or on paper via mail, and you will also need to submit either a digital or hard copy of your work. Completing the online application costs $65 for basic claims and is the preferred method of filing. If you choose to submit via mail, the basic claim fee increases to $125.

Process time for online applications is three to six months, but mail applicants may not hear anything for 10 to15 months. Bear this in mind if time is of importance to you.

Once the application has been approved, the U.S. Copyright Office will send you a Certificate of Registration, which provides legally binding protection for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years after that.

Benefits of Copyright Registration

The main benefit of copyright registration is that it grants you, the owner, the legal right to reproduce, display, perform and distribute your work. It also allows you to authorize others’ use of the work, as well as transfer ownership of the copyright at your discretion.

Registration provides a public record that you authored the work, and it provides enforceable legal protection against infringement. In the case of a lawsuit, having a registered copyright can assist you in recouping fees and statutory damages.

Since your original work automatically has copyrights as soon as you create it, you may think that it has enough protection. But authorship alone does not guarantee any recourse for unauthorized use by others. If you discover someone using your work, but it is not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, you may have a difficult time trying to enforce any legal recourse.

This could cost your company thousands, if not more, in lost business if someone is copying your content.