The Five Key Reasons to Record a Copyright

A copyright is an exclusive intellectual property right of creative expression: an idea fixed in a tangible way (e.g., on paper, on film, via recorded or sheet music or manuscript, etc.). Copyright protects the expression of the idea, not the idea itself (it would obviously be impossible to protect a thought inside someone’s head). With certain exceptions, it grants the copyright owner the exclusive right to reproduce, prepare, and distribute copies or derivative works, and to perform the work publicly. Copyright therefore protects against the unauthorized use, reproduction, or duplication of the expression of an idea.

Copyright is great for literary, dramatic, musical, audio/visual, architectural, and artistic works. It does not apply, however, to logos or brand names, or to facts, phrases, slogans, inventions, or systems of operation. Unlike trademarks or patents, copyright exists from the moment the idea is expressed in tangible form. An author therefore does not have to do anything to gain federal protection in their copyright. There are a number of important reasons, however, to record a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. They include:

1.     Copyright provides a public record and notice of your ownership at an incredibly low price. Current filing fees are typically between $35 and $55 per work;

2.     An author cannot file a copyright infringement action until the work is recorded;

3.     Filing within five years of publication creates a legal presumption for purposes of dispute that the registrant owns the copyright;

4.     Registration within three months of publication permits the copyright holder to pursue statutory damages in court (specific damages laid out in federal statute), as well as attorney fees (the general rule is each party pays their own attorney fees regardless of the nature of the allegations). This can substantially increase a potential infringement award.

5.     Finally, in the music royalties context, a failure to record a copyright precludes you from earning compulsory license royalties.

More info on these issues can be found here. By the way, there’s no such thing as a “poor man’s copyright.” So don’t believe what you read on the internet.

Zach Warkentin is a copyright attorney in Denver, Colorado. He is also a musician and a former graphic designer and creative director. For more information about Zach, please visit our About page.

DISCLAIMER: The above discussion is for informational purposes only and is not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this website do not create an attorney-client relationship between Warkentin LLC and the reader.


Zachary WarkentinWarkentin LLC