Registering for a copyright is not a legal requirement in the United States for protection of a work, but it is still in an inventor’s best interest to do so. Registering for a copyright makes a claim public—no one can claim that they were unaware of the copyright. As such, registering for a copyright also gives a claimant legal ground to stand on when filing a lawsuit against someone who infringes upon the copyright and makes money off of it.
An author or artist can’t file a lawsuit at all unless the work in question has a registered copyright. Work registered within five years of original publication is protected by prima facie (“at first appearance”) evidence of the copyright.
To be most effective, though, registration should be made within three months of initial publication, because any lawyer’s fees or statutory damages incurred can be available to the owner of the registered copyright in court. Without that statutory award, the claimant would have to prove actual damages, which can be very difficult as it involves showing an ongoing record of previous earnings and how these earnings were negatively impacted due to the infringement. With no hard record of this, the infringement is much harder to prove in court.
If a copyright was registered within three months of first publication, no actual damages have to be proved—the awarding of the statutory damages would suffice. Statutory damages can range anywhere from $750.00 to $150,000.00 per infringement. So, while registering for a copyright is not a legal requirement, it can be very beneficial to an author or artist in protecting him or her from others who infringe upon and make money from his or her works.
Registering a copyright also allows the registrant to file with the United States customs to prevent others from importing goods that do not comply with U.S. copyright guidelines.
There are many laws and regulations surrounding the issue of copyrighting original work and it can be confusing to those unfamiliar with it. Speaking with a legal professional to answer any questions you have and seek advice on where to go next can be a great first step in deciding how to go about protecting original work.