Computer Law How to Register a Copyright

This article will provide a summarized, basic understanding of copyright and provide you with steps on how to register a copyright from the U.S. Copyright Office.

When does copyright protection begin for something you create?

As soon as you create something original that is affixed in some physical or tangible form, a copyright is secured automatically. For a work to be considered "affixed" it must be recorded in some permanent format that can be seen, heard or retrieved using the aid of a machine such as a computer. Examples of a tangible form of recording sufficient for copyright include writing in a notebook, a recording on a digital medium.

Why should you register a copyright?

In addition to providing proof to the world that you were the creator of something original at an early date, registering your copyright with the United States Copyright Office also allows you to sue for copyright infringement. If you register in a timely fashion, after time (five years) there may be presumptions made about the adequacy of your copyright. Other benefits include being able to sue and be awarded statutory damages and attorneys' fees.

How do you register a copyright?

You can register a copyright online at the U.S. Copyright Office. The current cost as of the date of this article(2010) is $35 per each copyright registration and a good frequently asked questions page is available. It is best to be prepared with the information you will need in order to register. You may download the following print forms, which may also be submitted manually, which will help you become familiar with registration. The forms are located at the bottom of this article.

Can a foreigner or a minor register a copyright?

Yes. Anything that can be copyrighted in the United States is subject to copyright protection although the business dealings concerning a copyright are usually covered by state law.

Can you register a collection? How many copyrights must I register?

You are permitted to register an entire collection of works under one title for unpublished works subject to additional conditions. Listing individual titles in the collection is not necessary. If the works were already published, they can only be registered as a collection if they were originally published as a collection and also subject to additional conditions.

Can I use the copyright symbol after I register?

Using a copyright notice (the "C in a circle" such as © 2006 John Doe) is not required as it has been in the past. But it does serve to provide notice to the general public of important copyright information:
  • the work is identified as being protected by copyright
  • it displays the copyright owner
  • it shows the year of first publication.
In the event of a lawsuit for copyright infringement, an innocent infringement defense is not available to a defendant. It is clear by the notice that the work was subject to copyright and protected.

Copyright Forms for Registration

  • Form TX

    Use this form to register published or unpublished non dramatic literary works, excluding periodicals or serial issues. This form is also used for works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, textbooks, reference works, directories, catalogs, advertising, copy, compilations of information and computer programs.
  • Form PA

    Use this form to register published or unpublished works in the performing arts category. This form covers works prepared for the purpose of being "performed" directly before an audience or indirectly "by means of any device or process." Performing artworks include:
    • Musical works, including any accompanying words
    • dramatic works, including any accompanying music
    • pantomimes and choreographic works
    • motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Form VA

    This form is used to register published or unpublished works in the visual arts. This forms covers "pictorial, graphic or sculptural works," including two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art, photographs, prints, and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, technical drawings, diagrams and models.
  • Form SR

    Use this form to register the performance and production of a particular recording of sounds. This form is not the same as Form PA, which is used for the underlying music or composition, in other words, the music sheet and words that are written.
  • Form SE

    Use this form to register periodicals, newspapers, magazines, newsletters, annuals, journals and other works issued or intended to be issued in successive parts bearing numerical or chronological designations. Form SE registers the periodical as a whole whereas an individual article appearing in a magazine or newsletter would be registered on Form TX.

How long does the copyright last? Do I need to renew?

For most works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts from the date the copyright protection began until 70 years after the author's death. Anonymous or pseudonymous works, including works made for hire, last for 95 years from the year the work was first published or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. For works first published prior to 1978, the term varies and depends on several variables.

Renewal fees for copyright registration are not required as they were in the past. Once you register your copyright, currently $35 per registration, it covers the life of the copyright. However, in the event there are substantial changes to the work you've registered, you may need to file another copyright registration.
Intellectual Property
Copyright Registration, Prosecution
About author
Michael Wechsler
Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.


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