Draft third edition of USA copyright office compendium – short description of registration process

Under the current copyright law, a work of authorship is protected by copyright from the moment it is created, provided that the work is original and has been fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Although registration is not required for a work to be protected by copyright, it does provide several important benefits.

A registration creates a public record that includes key facts relating to the authorship and ownership of the claimed work, as well as information about the work, such as title, year of creation, date of publication (if any), and the type of authorship that the work contains (e.g., photographs, text, sound recordings).

Registration (or a refusal to register) is a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit for copyright infringement involving a U.S. work. To claim statutory damages or attorney’s fees in a copyright infringement lawsuit, a work must be registered before the infringement began or within three months after the first publication of the work.

A registration constitutes prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright and the facts stated in the certificate of registration, but only if the work is registered before or within five years after the work is first published. A registration is necessary to secure the full benefits of a preregistration that has been issued by the U.S. Copyright Office. A registration is required to claim royalties under the compulsory license for making and distributing phonorecords.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service may seize foreign pirated copies of a copyright owner’s work, provided that the work has been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office and the certificate of registration has been recorded with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service.

Preregistration is a special service that is intended for specific types of works that are likely to be infringed before they are completed or before they are released for commercial distribution, such as feature films. A preregistration is not the same as registration and the vast majority of applicants would not benefit from this service. Applicants should reflect carefully on whether preregistration is necessary in a specific case.

If the applicant appears to meet the legal and formal requirements, the U.S. Copyright Office will register the claim. The Office will issue a certificate of registration which contains much of the information that the applicant provided in the application. Both the certificate and the online public record contain a registration number and an effective date of registration. The effective date of registration is the date on which the Office received an acceptable application, complete deposit copy(ies), and the proper filing fee.

Registrations and renewal registrations issued under the current statute (the 1976 Act) expire when the work enters the public domain in the United States. A copyrighted work enters the public domain in this country when the copyright term for that work has expired under U.S. law. The fact that a work has entered the public domain in a foreign jurisdiction does not mean it has entered the public domain in the United States.