A copyright is a type of intellectual property. It protects works of art and expression such as, photographs, paintings, drawings, musical compositions, recordings, computer programs, videogames, sculptures, books, movies, and much more. Copyright protection exists at the moment a work is put into a tangible, fixed medium of expression. However, there are many important benefits in registering your copyrighted works with the USPTO. Here are our top five:
1. Registration is Required Prior to Lawsuit
While a work of authorship gains protection at creation of the work in a fixed form, there is an important catch. The United States Code, Section 411(a) states, “No civil action for infringement of the copyright of any United States work shall be instituted until…registration of the copyright claim has been made.”
So, to enforce your copyright through a lawsuit you must first register your work with the Copyright Office.
The United States Supreme Court confirmed this requirement as recently as March 4, 2019. In the case of Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, the Supreme Court held that it was clear, “cut and dry”: a copyright owner cannot file an infringement lawsuit until the work is registered with Copyright Office.
2. A Strong Cease & Desist Letter and DCMA Takedown Notice
A “cease and desist” letter is a formal demand to stop an activity that you believe is infringing your rights. It is the equivalent of sending a strongly worded letter to “knock it off” – or further legal action will follow.
Similarly, a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Takedown Notice, is a complaint made to a website host or other platform ordering the host to take down copyrighted material that belongs to you. If the host does not comply, then a lawsuit may proceed against the website owner.
Having a copyright registration can add extra teeth to a cease and desist or DCMA takedown request and so is more likely to force infringers to change their behavior A copyright registration is government recognition and undeniable proof that you are the copyright owner and you are the one who has the power to enforce your copyright through a lawsuit; for an unauthorized user, this is hard to contest.
3. Statutory Damages, Attorney Fees, and Other Remedies
If you register your work before an infringement occurs, or within three months (90 days) of publication, you might be eligible to receive statutory damages (damages specified by the law). This can be between $750 and $30,000 per work that was infringed.
If the infringement was found to be willful you might be eligible to receive even higher, up to $150,000 per work infringed. Importantly, all of this is without having to prove any actual damages (damages calculated by the amount of actual harm, loss, or injury proven).
If you do not register your work prior to infringement, you must prove the actual damages that occurred in order to have any recovery. Unfortunately, this can be very difficult to prove and quantify.
In addition to statutory damages, a registered copyright owner may be entitled to other remedies, such as an injunction. An injunction is a court order demanding an infringer cease and desist activities that may be infringing your copyrights. It is far stronger than a civil cease and desist letter. By filing early, you can save valuable time and limit harm to your copyright, as it will be easier to get an injunction.
Finally, you will also be entitled to court costs and attorneys’ fees, which can be substantial. According to an AIPLA report on the costs associated with IP litigation, “the average cost of litigating a copyright infringement case in federal court from pre-trial through the appeals process is $278,000. To put that number in perspective, on average, a full-time book author made only $17,500 from writing in 2015.” All of this will likely be covered presuming you have a registration.
4. Secure Ownership Transfers – Protection from US Customs
As an original author and creator of a work you maintain control over who is allowed to publicly display, copy, sell, and perform your work by obtaining a registered copyright. Registration gives you legal proof of ownership.
Having a registration of your copyright lets you easily transfer rights in the copyright to someone else, either in the form of a license (for a limited time or purpose) or a permanent sale of your copyright. Having proof of copyright ownership will not only allow for these types of transactions, but will also make them quicker, more efficient, and less problematic than the alternative informal agreements.
If anything, having proof of a registration will ease any worries of your copyright buyer or licensee – and this means you will likely get more money for your copyright.
Additionally, you may also go to the United States Customs Office, show them proof of copyright registration, and stop infringers overseas from importing infringing products into the country that include or involve your copyrighted work.
5. Your Artwork will Last Forever!
Imagine your copyrighted artwork is protected by over two thousand security guards, in a climate-controlled environment, behind bullet proof glass.
This analogy represents what happens when you register your copyright for a nominal fee (current filing fees are $65 for a single-author work). It really is that straightforward once you have your application submitted. In order to register a copyright, you must supply a copy of your work to the Library of Congress per “17 U.S.C. section 407, require[ing] the owner of a copyright… to deposit in the U.S. Copyright Office for the use of the Library of Congress two complete copies of the best edition within 3 months after a work is published.”
Do you think you may be a victim of copyright infringement? Do you need guidance through a DCMA takedown notice or writing a cease-and-desist letter to stop an infringer? Do you need help identifying and negotiating a copyright transaction? Do you have a need for an experienced copyright, trademark, or business attorney? If so, we’re happy to continue the conversation by phone, e-mail, or webform.
All the best,