Copyright registration is a claim to copyright filed with the U.S. Copyright Office which creates a public record of facts about a copyrighted work, including authorship and ownership information. Although authors do not need to register their works in order to enjoy the protection of copyright law, registration has several benefits which make it an advantageous practice. We’ve previously written about why and how to register your works with the Copyright Office.
While copyright owners no longer need to renew registration under U.S. copyright law, there are several situations in which updating or supplementing the Copyright Office’s record of your work is beneficial (or, in the case of termination of transfer, required).
Filing a Supplementary Registration
The Copyright Office allows authors, copyright owners, and their agents to file a supplementary registration to augment an initial registration. Copyright owners can file a supplementary registration to correct, update, or clarify information in a registration. For example, supplementary registration can be used to add a missing author or provide the name of the correct author, to reflect a change in name or address, to correct the spelling of a name or title, or to add a subtitle or an alternative title of the work.
A supplementary registration can be submitted any time after the Copyright Office has issued the original registration by completing Form CA and paying a filing fee (currently $130). For more information on supplementary registration, see Copyright Office Circular 8: Supplementary Registration.
Registering Derivative Works
Copyright owners often create works that are based on or derived from their existing works. These are called “derivative works”. Common examples of derivative works include translations, movie versions of literary works, abridgments, or compilations. Derivative works can be copyrighted, but the copyright in the derivative work covers only the additions, changes, or other new material appearing for the first time in the new version.
If copyright owners want to enjoy the benefits of registration for a derivative work, the derivative work can be registered with the Copyright Office. This will not extend the copyright in the original work; however, it provides a registered copyright in the new material in the derivative work. To register copyright claims in derivative works, copyright owners should follow the normal process to register a copyright and be prepared to provide information about previous registrations of preexisting material and a description of the new material added in the derivative work. For more information, including how to avoid common mistakes or omissions in registration for a derivative work, see Copyright Office Circular 12: Copyright in Derivative Works and Compilations.
Recording Transfers of Copyright Ownership and Other Documents Pertaining to Copyright Provides Certain Benefits
The U.S. Copyright Act allows copyright owners to record with the Copyright Office a transfer of copyright (for example, an assignment, a grant of an exclusive license, or a will). It also provides for the recordation of other “document[s] pertaining to a copyright.” A document is considered to pertain to a copyright if it has a direct or indirect relationship to the existence, scope, duration, or identification of a copyright, or to the ownership, division, allocation, licensing, transfer, or exercise of rights under a copyright. This covers a broad range of documents including nonexclusive licenses, contracts, and powers of attorney.
Recording transfers of copyright ownership and other documents establishes a public record of the facts in the documents and makes it easier for future users to identify and locate the current copyright owner of the work. You can read more about why Authors Alliance thinks that improved copyright records benefit authors here. To encourage recordation, the Copyright Act also provides certain benefits for recording documents. These benefits include establishing priority between conflicting transfers or between a transfer and a nonexclusive license under certain circumstances, and providing constructive notice to the public of the facts stated in the recorded document if certain requirements are met.
A transfer or other document related to copyright can be recorded by submitting a signed or certified, complete, and legible copy of the document being recorded to the Copyright Office, together with the required fee (currently $105 for a single title) and Form DCS cover sheet. If accepted, the Register of Copyright will record the document and issue a certificate of recordation. As of March 2018, the processing time for recording transfers or other documents related to copyright is 10 months. For more information on recording transfers of copyright ownership, see Copyright Office Circular 12: Recordation of Transfers and Other Documents.
Recording Terminations of Transfers
The U.S. Copyright Act gives authors or their heirs, under certain circumstances, the right to terminate an agreement that transferred the author’s copyright to a third party. Authors Alliance, together with Creative Commons, has created a tool at rightsback.org to help authors learn more about termination of transfer rights and how to evaluate whether a work is eligible for termination.
To effectuate a termination, the author or the author’s heirs must 1) provide the current rightsholder with advance written notice of termination and 2) record a copy of that notice with the Copyright Office. Authors Alliance provides notice of termination templates designed to meet the requirements set forth in the Copyright Office’s regulations. The notice of termination can be recorded with the Copyright Office by submitting a copy of the notice, together with the required fee (currently $105 for a single title) and Form TCS cover sheet. As of March 2018, the processing time for recording notices of termination of transfers is 3 months.
Last updated April 25, 2018.
We are grateful to Allison Davenport, former Authors Alliance Research Assistant, for her help researching and drafting this post.
 If your work was copyrighted after January 1, 1978, copyright registration lasts the length of a copyright and does not need to be renewed. For copyrights secured between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977, renewal of the initial 28-year term was automatic and the term of copyright is now 95 years from the date the work was copyrighted. For these works, renewal is optional but carries a number of benefits, as discussed in the Copyright Office’s Renewal of Copyright circular. For copyrights secured prior to January 1, 1964, if the registration was not renewed, it is likely that the copyright has expired.