Last week we outlined the benefits of registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. If you missed it, start here to learn why registration is an advantageous practice for authors. In the second half of this two-part series, we explain how to register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Copyright registration is a claim to copyright filed with the Copyright Office which creates a public record of facts about a copyrighted work, including authorship and ownership information. Copyright registration includes three essential elements: a completed application form, a filing fee, and a “deposit” (a copy of the work submitted to the Copyright Office). Each of these steps are outlined below. Authors, their agents, and owners of an exclusive right in a work can register a copyright. Often, but not always, if you are publishing your work, your publisher will register the work for you—but it is best to check, especially if you are retaining your copyright or publishing with a smaller press. If you are self-publishing your work, it will be up to you (or your agent) register the copyright to your work.
Registration can be made at any time within the life of copyright, but some benefits of registration are contingent upon timely filing, as described in last week’s post.
Application forms for copyright registration can be completed and submitted online or through a paper application. The Copyright Office encourages authors to register online, where possible. Advantages of registering online include lower filing fees, faster processing times, and the ability to track the application status.
Online applications for copyright registration can be accessed from the Copyright Office’s Registration Portal, paper forms are available on the Copyright Office’s Forms page, or you can request forms through the mail by calling (202) 707-3000.
Before you begin an application, you will need to select the category of work that best corresponds to the work you want to register (e.g. literary works, visual arts, motion pictures, photographs, etc.). The information collected on the form is based on the type of work you are registering, but generally includes information about the work (such as the title, completion year, and publication year, if applicable), the author, and the copyright owner. Once the application is submitted to the Copyright Office, the application is a part of the public record, meaning anyone can request to see a copy of your application.
The filing fee for online applications is currently $35 (single application) or $55 (standard application). The filing fee for paper applications is currently $85. If you are submitting your application online, the Copyright Office accepts credit cards, debit cards, or electronic checks. Fees accompanying paper forms must be paid by check or money order (unless the registrant maintains a deposit account with the Copyright Office).
Deposit Copy of the Work
You normally must submit a copy or copies of your work (known as a “deposit”) to complete the application process.
Some works, such as unpublished works and works published only in an electronic format, may be submitted electronically with an online application form. If you are submitting a work electronically, make sure that you submit it in an electronic file type acceptable to the Copyright Office. The maximum size for an uploaded file is 500MB.
If you are registering a work first published in the United States after January 1, 1978, you may be subject to “best edition” and mandatory deposit requirements. In this case, you must submit two complete hard copies of your work (or, in the case of certain types of published literary works and musical compositions, a single copy). If there are multiple editions of your work, you may be required to deposit the “best edition”. The best edition is the edition published in the United States at any time before the date of deposit that the Library of Congress determines is most suitable. For example, the Copyright Office’s Best Edition Statement requires that you submit the hard cover edition of your work rather than the soft cover edition, if your work is available in both forms. If multiple versions of your work are published, review the Best Edition Statement to determine which edition to submit.
Hard deposit copies can be mailed to:
Library of Congress
U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20559
If you are mailing a hard copy of your work after submitting an online registration form, be sure to include the shipping slip that was created when you filled out the application on your computer. If you are filing for registration using a paper form, send the work, the completed application form, and the fee in one package.
Please note that some works have special rules, considerations, or exemptions from the deposit requirement. For example, if you are registering a sculptural work or a computer program, you generally should submit “identifying material” (like photographs or drawings in the case of a sculptural work or source code in the case of a computer program) instead of the work itself. To learn more, read Copyright Office Circular 7D.
As of February 2018, the average processing time for online applications is 6-8 months and for paper applications is 8-10 months. If your registration is approved, the Copyright Office will mail a registration certificate to the address specified in your application form and the effective date of registration will be the date that the Office received all of the required elements (the application, fee, and deposit).
For more information on copyright registration, see the Copyright Office Circular 2.
Last updated February 20, 2018.
We are grateful to Allison Davenport, former Authors Alliance Research Assistant, for her help with researching and drafting this post.