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Copyright Law: Register a Copyright

Selected resources useful for general IP and Copyright research.

Title 17, United States Code

§ 102. Subject matter of copyright: In general

  1. (a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:
    1. (1) literary works;
    2. (2) musical works, including any accompanying words;
    3. (3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
    4. (4) pantomimes and choreographic works;
    5. (5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
    6. (6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
    7. (7) sound recordings; and
    8. (8) architectural works.

Copyright Registration

Currently, most countries recognize the existence of a copyright at the moment when a "work" is "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" (see emphasized text in the center box).  Those terms are interpreted fairly broadly.  A "work" can be any creative expression: a drawing, a song, a poem, a photograph -- even an email.  And it doesn't have to be on paper, pixels on a computer screen count too.

Technically, nothing ever needs to be "copyrighted," because the copyright exists as soon as whatever-it-is exists.  What the Copyright Office does is register information about who created (or owns) the subject of the copyright (the whatever-it-is that was created).

So why register? Copyright registration establishes a presumption of ownership; although if something is registered falsely, that presumption can be rebutted through litigation. Copyright registration is also a prerequisite to any lawsuit alleging infringement of a work. If an author or artist intends to offer their work for sale or reproduction, then it is a good idea to register the work before making it available.

Registration requests can be filed either electronically or on paper.  The costs and requirements for filing vary depending on the type of work being registered and the format of the request. The instructions should be followed carefully to insure that a registration request is valid.

U.S. Government Copyright Links

The United States Copyright Office provides all of the resources necessary for registering and searching for copyright information. Authors and artists just starting the process should go here first. If managing the process seems too complicated or challenging, a qualified attorney should be contacted for assistance.

Licensing Organizations

Licensing organizations have been established by creators and publishers of various categories of works to facilitate the process of obtaining permission and making royalty payments.  If you are interested in using works created by others in a for-profit or commercial setting, you might want to contact one of these organizations.


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