Copyright Registration

Frequently asked questions about copyright

1. What does copyright protect?

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Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

2. When is my work protected?

Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form so that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

3. What is your telephone number?

The Public Information Office telephone number is (202) 707-3000. To order application forms, the number is (202) 707-9100. TTY is (202) 707-6737.

4. What is your mailing address?

Copyright Office
Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave. SE
Washington, DC 20559-6000

5. What are your visiting address and hours of operation?

The Copyright Office is located at 101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington, DC, in the James Madison Memorial Building, Room LM-401, of the Library of Congress. Hours of service are 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays. The nearest Metro stop is Capitol South.

6. Where can I get application forms?

You may get forms from the U.S. Copyright Office in person, by mailing in a request, or by calling our 24-hours-per-day forms hotline: (202) 707-9100. Some public libraries may carry our forms but we do not maintain a list of those libraries. Forms may also be downloaded from our Web site.

7. When will I get my certificate?

The time the Copyright Office requires to process an application varies, depending on the amount of material the Office is receiving. You may generally expect a certificate of registration within approximately 8 months of submission.

8. Can you provide me with copies of my application and my work?

Contact the Certifications and Documents Section of the Copyright Office (202) 707-6787.

9. How can I obtain copies of someone else's work and/or registration certificate?

The Copyright Office will not honor a request for a copy of someone else's work without written authorization from the owner or from his or her designated agent if that work is still under copyright protection, unless the work is involved in litigation. Written permission from the copyright owner or a litigation statement is required before copies can be made available. A certificate of registration for any registered work can be obtained for a fee of $25.

10. I lost my certificate: Can I get a new one?

Yes, we can produce additional certificates for a fee of $25. See Circular 6 for details on how to make such a request.

11. Do you have a list of songs or movies in the public domain?

No, we neither compile nor maintain such a list. A search of our records, however, may reveal whether a particular work has fallen into the public domain. We will conduct a search of our records by the title of a work, an author's name, or a claimant's name. The search fee is $65 per hour. You may also search the records in person without paying a fee.

12. What is mandatory deposit?

Copies of all works under copyright protection that have been published in the United States are required to be deposited with the Copyright Office within three months of the date of first publication. See Circular 7d and the Deposit Regulation 96 202.19.

13. Do I have to register with your office to be protected?

No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.

14. Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?

Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.

15. Are you the only place I can go to register a copyright?

Although copyright application forms may be available in public libraries and some reference books, the U.S. Copyright Office is the only office that can accept applications and issue registrations.

16. How do I register my copyright?

To register a work, you need to submit a completed application form, a non-refundable filing fee of $30, and a non-returnable copy or copies of the work to be registered. See Circular 1, section Registration Procedures.

17. How long does the registration process take?

The time the Copyright Office requires to process an application varies, depending on the amount of material the Office is receiving. You may generally expect a certificate of registration within approximately 8 months of submission.

18. What is the registration fee?

The current filing fee is $30 per application. Generally, each work requires a separate application. See Circular 4.

19. Can I make copies of the application form?

Yes, you can make copies of copyright forms if they meet the following criteria: photocopied back to back and head to head on a single sheet of 8 1/2 by 11 inch white paper. In other words, your copy must look just like the original.

20. What is a deposit?

A deposit is usually one copy (if unpublished) or two copies (if published) of the work to be registered for copyright. In certain cases such as works of the visual arts, identifying material such as a photograph may be used instead. See Circular 40a. The deposit is sent with the application and fee and becomes the property of the Library of Congress.

21. How can I know if you received my application for registration?

If you want to know when the Copyright Office receives your material, you should send it by registered or certified mail and request a return receipt from the post office. Allow at least five weeks for the return of your receipt.

22. Can I find out what is happening with my registration?

Copyright registration is effective on the day we receive the appropriate form, copy or copies of the work, and the $30 filing fee. The time the Copyright Office requires to process an application varies, depending on the amount of material the Office is receiving. You may generally expect a certificate of registration within approximately 8 months of submission . In the event we need further information, a letter or telephone call from our office, will be received during this time period. We are not able to provide status information for submissions that were received less than eight months ago. If it is imperative that you have this information sooner, you may pay the appropriate fees and request that the Certifications and Documents Section conduct an in-process search. The current in-process search fee is $65 per hour.

23. Do I have to send in my work? Do I get it back?

Yes, you must send the required copy or copies of the work to be registered. These copies will not be returned. Upon their deposit in the Copyright Office, under sections 407 and 408 of the Copyright law, all copies, phonorecords, and identifying material, including those deposited in connection with claims that have been refused registration, are the property of the United States Government.

24.May I register more than one work on the same application?

Where do I list the titles? You may register unpublished works as a collection on one application with one title for the entire collection if certain conditions are met. It is not necessary to list the individual titles in your collection, although you may do so by completing a Continuation Sheet. Published works may only be registered as a collection if they were actually first published as a collection and if other requirements have been met. See Circular 1, section Registration Procedures.

25. What is the difference between form PA and form SR?

These forms are for registering two different types of copyrightable subject matter that may be embodied in a recording. Form PA is used for the registration of music and/or lyrics (as well as other works of the performing arts), even if your song is on a cassette. Form SR is used for registering the performance and production of a particular recording of sounds. See Circular 50 and Circular 56a.

26. Do I have to renew my copyright?

No. Works created on or after January 1, 1978, are not subject to renewal registration (see Circular 15). As to works published or registered prior to January 1, 1978, renewal registration is optional after 28 years but does provide certain legal advantages. For information on how to file a renewal application as well as the legal benefit for doing so, see Circular 15 and Circular 15a.

27. Can I submit my manuscript on a computer disk?

No. There are many different software formats and the Copyright Office does not have the equipment to accommodate all of them. Therefore, the Copyright Office still generally requires a printed copy or audio recording of the work for deposit.

28. Can I submit a CD-ROM of my work?

Yes, you may. The deposit requirement consists of the best edition of the CD-ROM package of any work, including the accompanying operating software, instruction manual and a printed version, if included in the package. See Circular 55.

29. How do I protect my recipe?

A mere listing of ingredients is not protected under copyright law. However, where a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a collection of recipes as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection. See FL 122.

30. Does copyright now protect architecture?

Yes. Architectural works became subject to copyright protection on December 1, 1990. The copyright law defines "architectural work" as "the design of a building embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings." Copyright protection extends to any architectural work created on or after December 1, 1990, and any architectural work that on December 1, 1990, was unconstructed and embodied in unpublished plans or drawings. Architectural works embodied in buildings constructed prior to December 1, 1990, are not eligible for copyright protection. See, Circular 41.

31. Can I register a diary I found in my grandmother's attic?

You can register copyright in the diary only if you are the transferee (by will, by inheritance). Copyright is the right of the author of the work or the author's heirs or assignees, not of the one who only owns or possesses the physical work itself. See Circular 1, section Who Can Claim Copyright.

32. Do you have special mailing requirements?

Our only requirement is that all three elements, the application, the copy or copies of the work, and the $30 filing fee, be sent in the same package. Many people send their material to us by certified mail, with a return receipt request, but this is not necessary.

33. Can foreigners register their works in the U.S.?

Any work that is protected by U.S. copyright law can be registered. This includes many works of foreign origin. All works that are unpublished, regardless of the nationality of the author, are protected in the United States. Works that are first published in the United States or in a country with which we have a copyright treaty or that are created by a citizen or domiciliary of a country with which we have a copyright treaty are also protected and may therefore be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. See Circular 38a for the status of specific countries.

34. Who is an author?

Under the copyright law, the creator of the original expression in a work is its author. The author is also the owner of copyright unless there is a written agreement by which the author assigns the copyright to another person or entity, such as a publisher. In cases of works made for hire (see Circular 9), the employer or commissioning party is considered to be the author.

35. What is a work made for hire?

Although the general rule is that the person who creates the work is its author, there is an exception to that principle; the exception is a work made for hire, which is a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or a work specially ordered or commissioned in certain specified circumstances. When a work qualifies as a work made for hire, the employer or commissioning party is considered to be the author. See Circular 9.

36. Can a minor claim copyright?

Minors may claim copyright, and the Copyright Office does issue registrations to minors, but state laws may regulate the business dealings involving copyrights owned by minors. For information on relevant state laws, consult an attorney.

37. Do I have to use my real name on the form? Can I use a stage name or a pen name?

There is no legal requirement that the author be identified by his or her real name on the application form. For further information, see FL 101. If filing under a fictitious name, check the "Pseudonymous" box at space 2.

38. What is publication?

Publication has a technical meaning in copyright law. According to the statute, "Publication is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication." Generally, publication occurs on the date on which copies of the work are first made available to the public. For further information see Circular 1, section Publication.

39. Does my work have to be published to be protected?

Publication is not necessary for copyright protection.

40. How do I get my work published?

Publication occurs at the discretion and initiative of the copyright owner. The Copyright Office has no role in the publication process.

41. Are copyrights transferable?

Yes. Like any other property, all or part of the rights in a work may be transferred by the owner to another. See Circular 1, section Transfer of Copyright, for a discussion of ownership.

42. Do you have any forms for transfer of copyrights?

There are no forms provided by the Copyright Office to effect a copyright transfer. The Office does, however, keep records of transfers if they are submitted to us. If you have executed a transfer and wish to record it, the Copyright Office can provide a Document Cover Sheet, which can help to expedite the processing of the recordation. See Circular 12.

43. Can I copyright the name of my band?

No. Names are not protected by copyright law. Some names may be protected under trademark law. Contact the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, (800) 786-9199, for further information.

44. How do I copyright a name, title, slogan or logo?

Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases. In some cases, these things may be protected as trademarks. Contact the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office at (800) 786-9199 for further information. However, copyright protection may be available for logo art work that contains sufficient authorship. In some circumstances, an artistic logo may also be protected as a trademark.

45. How do I protect my idea?

Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in your description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work.

46. How long does copyright last?

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, signed into law on October 27, 1998, amends the provisions concerning duration of copyright protection. Effective immediately, the terms of copyright are generally extended for an additional 20 years. Specific provisions are as follows:

  • For works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection will endure for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. In the case of a joint work, the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author's death. For anonymous and pseudonymous works and works made for hire, the term will be 95 years from the year of first publication or 120 years from the year of creation, whichever expires first;
  • For works created but not published or registered before January 1, 1978, the term endures for life of the author plus 70 years, but in no case will expire earlier than December 31, 2002. If the work is published before December 31, 2002, the term will not expire before December 31, 2047;
  • For pre-1978 works still in their original or renewal term of copyright, the total term is extended to 95 years from the date that copyright was originally secured. For further information see Circular 15a.

47. How much of someone else's work can I use without getting permission?

Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentages of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances. See Circular 21 and FL 102.

48. How much do I have to change in my own work to make a new claim of copyright?

You may make a new claim in your work if the changes are substantial and creative -- something more than just editorial changes or minor changes. This would qualify as a new derivative work. For instance, simply making spelling corrections throughout a work does not warrant a new registration -- adding an additional chapter would. See Circular 14 for further information.

49. How much do I have to change in order to claim copyright in someone else's work?

Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create a new version of that work. Accordingly, you cannot claim copyright to another's work, no matter how much you change it, unless you have the owner's consent. See Circular 14.

50. How do I get my work into the Library of Congress?

Copies of works deposited for copyright registration or in fulfillment of the mandatory deposit requirement are available to the Library of Congress for its collections. The Library reserves the right to select or reject any published work for its permanent collections based on the research needs of Congress, the nation's scholars, and of the nation's libraries. If you would like further information on the Library's selection policies, you may contact: Library of Congress, Collections Policy Office, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E., Washington, DC 20540.

51. What is a Library of Congress number?

The Library of Congress Card Catalog Number is assigned by the Library at its discretion to assist librarians in acquiring and cataloging works. For further information call the Cataloging in Publication Division at (202) 707-6345.

52. What is an ISBN number?

The International Standard Book Number is administered by the R. R. Bowker Company (908) 665-6770. The ISBN is a numerical identifier intended to assist the international community in identifying and ordering certain publications.

53. What is a copyright notice?

How do I put a copyright notice on my work? A copyright notice is an identifier placed on copies of the work to inform the world of copyright ownership. While use of a copyright notice was once required as a condition of copyright protection, it is now optional. Use of the notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require advance permission from, or registration with, the Copyright Office. See Circular 3, Copyright Notice for requirements for works published before March 1, 1989 and for more information on the form and position of the copyright notice.

54. How do I collect royalties?

The collection of royalties is usually a matter of private arrangements between an author and publisher or other users of the author's work. The Copyright Office plays no role in the execution of contractual terms or business practices. There are copyright licensing organizations and publications rights clearinghouses that distribute royalties for their members.

55. Somebody infringed my copyright. What can I do?

A party may seek to protect his or her copyrights against unauthorized use by filing a civil lawsuit in Federal district court. If you believe that your copyright has been infringed, consult an attorney. In cases of willful infringement for profit, the U.S. Attorney may initiate a criminal investigation.

56. Is my copyright good in other countries?

The United States has copyright relations with more than 100 countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, we honor each other's citizens' copyrights. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with every country. For a listing of countries and the nature of their copyright relations with the United States, see Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States.

57. How do I get on your mailing list?

The Copyright Office does not maintain a mailing list. The Copyright Office sends periodic e-mail messages via NewsNet, a free electronic mailing list. Important announcements and new or changed regulations and the like are published in the Federal Register. Most will also appear on the Copyright Office website on the Internet.

58.How do I protect my sighting of Elvis?

Copyright law does not protect sightings. However, copyright law will protect your photo (or other depiction) of your sighting of Elvis. Just send it to us with a form VA application and the $30 filing fee. No one can lawfully use your photo of your sighting, although someone else may file his own photo of his sighting. Copyright law protects the original photograph, not the subject of the photograph.

59. How do I get permission to use somebody else's work?

You can ask for it. If you know who the copyright owner is, you may contact the owner directly. If you are not certain about the ownership or have other related questions, you may wish to request that the Copyright Office conduct a search of its records for a fee of $65 per hour. Additional information can be found in Circular 22.

60. Could I be sued for using somebody else's work? How about quotes or samples?

If you use a copyrighted work without authorization, the owner may be entitled to bring an infringement action against you. There are circumstances under the fair use doctrine where a quote or a sample may be used without permission. However, in cases of doubt, the Copyright Office recommends that permission be obtained.

The answers to these questions should be read as introductory rather than as definitive. Please consult the references cited in the answers. Many can be obtained by contacting the U.S. Copyright Office. Courtesy U.S. Patent & Trademark Office

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