In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright. However, registration is not a condition of copyright protection.

Even though registration is not a requirement for protection, the copyright law provides several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners to make registration.

Among these advantages are the following:

  • Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
  • Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of US origin.
  • If made before or within 5 years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.
  • If registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.
  • Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the US Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies.

Registration may be made at any time within the life of the copyright. Unlike the law before 1978, when a work has been registered in unpublished form, it is not necessary to make another registration when the work becomes published, although the copyright owner may register the published edition, if desired.

Registration Procedures

To register a work, send the following three elements in the same envelope or package to:

Library of Congress
Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

1. A properly completed application form.

2. A nonrefundable filing fee of $30 for each application.

3. A nonreturnable deposit of the work being registered.

Deposit Requirements

The deposit requirements vary in particular situations, but the general requirements are:

  • If the work was first published in the United States on or after January 1, 1978, two complete copies or phonorecords of the best edition.
  • If the work was first published in the United States before January 1, 1978, two complete copies or phonorecords of the work as first published.
  • If the work was first published outside the United States, one complete copy or phonorecord of the work as first published.
  • If sending multiple works, all applications, deposits, and fees should be sent in the same package. If possible, applications should be attached to the appropriate deposit. Whenever possible, number each package (e. g., 1 of 3, 2 of 4) to facilitate processing.

Special Deposit Requirements

Special deposit requirements exist for many types of works. The following are prominent examples of exceptions to the general deposit requirements:

  • If the work is a motion picture, the deposit requirement is one complete copy of the unpublished or published motion picture and a separate written description of its contents, such as a continuity, press book, or synopsis.
  • If the work is a literary, dramatic, or musical work published only in a phonorecord,the deposit requirement is one complete phonorecord.
  • If the work is an unpublished or published computer program, the deposit requirement is one visually perceptible copy in source code of the first 25 and last 25 pages of the program. For a program of fewer than 50 pages, the deposit is a copy of the entire program.
  • If the work is in a CD-ROM format, the deposit requirement is one complete copy of the material, that is, the CD-ROM, the operating software, and any manual(s) accompanying it. If registration is sought for the computer program on the CD-ROM, the deposit should also include a printout of the first 25 and last 25 pages of source code for the program.

In the case of works reproduced in three-dimensional copies, identifying material such as photographs or drawings is ordinarily required. Other examples of special deposit requirements (but by no means an exhaustive list) include many works of the visual arts such as greeting cards, toys, fabrics, oversized materials, video games and other machine-readable audiovisual works, automated databases, and contributions to collective works.

If you are unsure of the deposit requirement for your work, write or call the Copyright Office and describe the work you wish to register.

What Happens if the Three Elements Are Not Received Together

Applications and fees received without appropriate copies, phonorecords, or identifying material will not be processed and ordinarily will be returned. Unpublished deposits without applications or fees ordinarily will be returned, also.

In most cases, published deposits received without applications and fees can be immediately transferred to the collections of the Library of Congress. This practice is in accordance with section 408 of the law, which provides that the published deposit required for the collections of the Library of Congress may be used for registration only if the deposit is “accompanied by the prescribed application and fee.”

After the deposit is received and transferred to another service unit of the Library for its collections or other disposition, it is no longer available to the Copyright Office. If you wish to register the work, you must deposit additional copies or phonorecords with your application and fee.

Renewal Registration

To register a renewal, send:

1. A properly completed application Form RE and, if necessary, Form RE Addendum.

2. A nonrefundable filing fee of $60 without Addendum; $90 with Addendum for each application.

Each Addendum form must be accompanied by a deposit representing the work being reviewed.

Unpublished Collections

Under the following conditions, a work may be registered in unpublished form as a “collection,” with one application form and one fee:

  • The elements of the collection are assembled in an orderly form;
  • The combined elements bear a single title identifying the collection as a whole;
  • The copyright claimant in all the elements and in the collection as a whole is the same; and
  • All the elements are by the same author, or, if they are by different authors, at least one of the authors has contributed copyrightable authorship to each element.

An unpublished collection is not indexed under the individual titles of the contents but under the title of the collection.

Effective Date of Registration

A copyright registration is effective on the date the Copyright Office receives all the required elements in acceptable form, regardless of how long it then takes to process the application and mail the certificate of registration.

The time the Copyright Office requires to process an application varies, depending on the amount of material the Office is receiving.

If you apply for copyright registration, you will not receive an acknowledgment that your application has been received (the Office receives more than 600,000 applications annually), but you can expect:

  • A letter or a telephone call from a Copyright Office staff member if further information is needed, or
  • A certificate of registration indicating that the work has been registered, or if the application cannot be accepted, a letter explaining why it has been rejected.

Requests to have certificates available for pickup in the Public Information Office or to have certificates sent by Federal Express or another mail service cannot be honored.

If you want to know the date that the Copyright Office receives your material, send it by registered or certified mail and request a return receipt.