© questions? … © answers!


When does my copyright start?
The copyright starts at the moment of creation - when the ink is dry on the paper or the performance is recorded on tape, or the CD-ROM is burned. As soon as the original expression of an Author’s idea is in fixed tangible form, the copyright exists. You don’t have to file a registration form or publish the work to have a copyright, as long as it is in a form that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a device like a CD player or computer.

Why should I register my copyright if protection is automatic? There are several excellent reasons to register your claim to copyright. Registrations are public records identifying the Copyright Claimant; Registration is necessary before an infringement suit can be filed in court; Registration is evidence in court of your claim to ownership; If registration is made within three (3) months after publication or before an infringement, you may ask for additional damages and attorney’s fees; Registration is necessary to obtain certain compulsory royalties; and Registration protects against the importation of infringing copies of your work.

How long does a copyright last? That depends on how long you last. If the work was created after January 1, 1978, then the copyright lasts for the life of the Author plus seventy (70) years. If it was a joint work (two or more Authors contributed), the copyright lasts for the life of the last surviving Joint Author plus seventy (70) years. If it was a work for hire, (the work of an employee or contractor), then copyright lasts in the name of the Employer for ninety-five (95) years after publication or one hundred and twenty (120) years after creation, whichever is shorter. The same applies for anonymous and pseudonymous works, unless the author's identity is revealed on the registration.

Can’t I use the “poor man’s copyright” and just mail it to myself? Obtaining copyright protection by mailing your work to yourself and not opening the envelope is an urban myth. Although you may have a postmark showing the date of mailing, it is not a substitute for registration. It’s a waste of time and money because it has no legal benefits for infringement lawsuits. It will still be necessary to file for registration of your claim in the Copyright Office before a lawsuit. The postmarked envelope is not a public record or solid proof in court. Why do you think they call it the “poor man’s copyright”?

How much does it cost? Fees are subject to change. For applicable fees, check the Copyright Office website or call (202) 707-3000.

How do I pay? Checks & money orders payable in U.S. dollars are acceptable. The Copyright Office will not take cash, credit cards, international money orders, or postal money orders for filing your registration. If you bounce a check on the Copyright Office, your registration will be cancelled. The filing fee is not refundable.

When do I file? A registration may be filed at any time within the life of the copyright, but in order to guarantee the strongest protection, file the registration forms within three (3) months of the first publication of the work.

Who can file the registration form? The following persons are legally entitled to file: The Author; The Copyright Claimant; The Employer if the work was made for hire; The Owner of one or more of the exclusive right(s); and/or A duly authorized agent of the above persons.

Should my paper registration form be notarized? There is no requirement that applications be prepared, notarized or filed by an attorney.

Where do I get copyright forms? This site has copies of the most commonly used forms. You can also download forms directly from the Copyright Office’s website. You’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader® which can be downloaded for free from Adobe’s website.

Is it OK to make copies of the forms? Yes. Photocopy all the blank application forms you need. Just make sure the forms are clear, legible, and on a good grade of white paper.

How do I print the forms out? The forms should be printed in black ink on a single sheet of 8 1/2” by 11” white paper. Print them “head-to-head” so that when you turn the form over, the top of page 2 is directly behind the top of page 1. For the best quality, use a laser printer. Type or print the required information in black ink. Illegible or improperly printed forms may be rejected. HINT: If you’re filling out more than one form, print out several undated back pages which contain your contact information. Load those preprinted pages in your laser printer, then fill out and print just the front sheets.

The form has a space for 3 authors, but 4 of us wrote the song. What do we do? If all the information you need to submit can’t fit on one page, use Form CON, which is a continuation sheet for your application.
How long does the registration process take? The Copyright Office gets over 600,000 applications a year – give them some time. If you’ve filled out the form correctly, enclosed your deposit copies and proper fee, it might take 4 to 6 months to receive your registration certificate. After anthrax was discovered in envelopes mailed to Congress, the Copyright Office instituted special handling procedures. All incoming mail is screened off-site. This process may add 3 to 5 days to the delivery time for all mail sent to the Copyright Office.

Will the Copyright Office contact me? If additional information is needed, you will receive a call or letter from the Copyright Office. If your application is rejected, you will receive a letter explaining the reason for rejection.

May I FedEx my application? Yes, but it won’t shave any time off the process. Save your money and mail it. If you’re concerned about it being lost en route, send the completed form, fee, and deposit copies by certified mail and request a return receipt.

What if someone infringes my work before I get my certificate back? The effective date of registration is the date that the Copyright Office first receives your application, payment, and deposit copies in proper form, even if it takes months to process your application and return the registration certificate to you. If registration is made within three (3) months after the first publication of the work, the effective date of protection is then retroactive to the date of first publication. A registration filed prior to an infringement of the work gives the Copyright Owner the option for asking for additional infringement penalties.

Can’t somebody just lie on the registration form and claim that they wrote my song? They can. Registration is an element of proof of ownership, but not the only element. If a claim-jumper files a registration for your work, you’ll have to sue them for infringement in order to have yourself declared the Copyright Owner. You may even be able to prove intentional infringement against him. However in order to have the option of asking for the maximum $150,000 judgment against the thief, you have to file your registration before the infringement, or within 3 months of first publication. The best procedure is to promptly file your registration form within three months of publication, so your protection is retroactive to the date of publication. Likewise don’t get any ideas of doing the same yourself. Look closely at the bottom of the back page of Form PA: “17 U.S.C. §506(e): Any person who knowingly makes a false representation of a material fact in the application for copyright registration . . . shall be fined not more than $2,500.” It is a criminal offense to lie on an application.

Where do I put the copyright notice? Although the use of a copyright notice is no longer required under U. S. law, you should use it. Place the notice where it would "give reasonable notice of the claim of copyright." The notice consists of three elements: the word “copyright” or its symbol ©, (the letter C in a circle), the year of first publication and the name of the Copyright Owner. For phonorecords embodying sound recordings, use the letter P in a circle, the year of first publication of the sound recording; and the name of the owner of copyright in the sound recording.

We all wrote the song. There is no “I” in “Band.” Before you fill out the Form PA, the Joint Authors must agree on the division of ownership of the copyright. If three Authors are named, it is assumed that each Author owns 1/3 of the copyright. It’s often likely that one band member wrote the music and the other two wrote the words. If it’s a 50% - 25% - 25% ownership split, the Joint Authors should sign a Joint Author agreement before filing the registration. You really need to get this in writing because there is an "I" in "LAWSUIT".

The drummer is claiming he co-wrote the song, but all he did was suggest handclaps. Each Joint Author has to contribute an independently copyrightable portion to the final work. Lyrics are copyrightable separately as poetry. Music is separately copyrightable as an instrumental composition.

I wrote the lyrics and music, and I also recorded my song. Do I have to file both Form PA and Form SR? Maybe. Form SR protects the sound recording – Form PA covers the underlying composition. If the Author of both is the same, then you can file a Form SR that also protects the composition. If you wish to register only the underlying work that is a musical composition or dramatic work, use Form PA, even though you may send a CD or tape as the deposit copy. Use Form SR for registration of published or unpublished sound recordings, that is, for registration of the particular sounds or recorded performance of any musical composition. To register, use Form SR, but clearly state that your claim covers both the composition and the sound recording of your performance.

Which form do I use for a multimedia work? Form SR is the appropriate form for registration of a multimedia kit that combines two or more kinds of authorship including a sound recording (such as a boxed set containing a book and an CD’s).

I hate filling out all these forms. Is there a short form? Yes if only one living Author is the only Copyright Claimant. There are other restrictions as well. Download short forms PA, TX and VA from the Copyright Office.

Can I do all of this online? The Copyright Office has an online filing system. Check the Copyright Office's website. You can download forms and information and do some research online.

I paid him for it, so it’s automatically a “Work For Hire” right? WRONG. It’s not a work for hire unless the Author is your employee, or you have commissioned the Author in a written agreement prior to the creation of the work. Even so, there is a limited list of categories of works-for-hire.

Do I have a copyright on my live performances? No, not until that performance has been recorded. Until it has been fixed in a tangible form, it doesn’t have all three required elements of copyrightability: originality, expression, and fixation.

Somebody else used my title for their song. Isn’t that infringement?
Titles and short phrases are not copyrightable. At last count the Copyright Office has registered 2,339 songs with the title "I Love You".

Can I copyright my domain name? No. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) handles that. Contact them at

It took me months to record my CD. What is the date of creation?
If a work is prepared over a period of time, the part of the work that is fixed on a particular date constitutes the creation date of the work. For sound recordings, the creation date is usually when the final mixed and mastered tape is sent to pressing plant. Remember that creation is not the same as publication.

When do I have to renew my copyright? You do not have to renew a copyright in a work created on or after January 1, 1978. For works published or registered before that date, you may file a renewal. This is a complex area, so get the advice of a knowledgeable copyright attorney.

Can foreigners register their works in the United States? Yes. All works that are unpublished, regardless of the domicile or nationality of the Author, can be protected in the United States. Yes, if the work was first published in the U.S. Yes, if the work was first published in a country that has a copyright treaty with the U.S. Yes, if the Author was domiciled in the U.S. when the work was published in the U.S. Yes, if the work was created by a citizen or legal resident of a country that has a copyright treaty with the U.S. No, if the work was published in a country that does not have a copyright treaty with the U.S. such as Bhutan, Iran, or Yemen.

How do I get an International Copyright? There is no such thing, and anyway you don’t need one. The United States has signed the Berne Convention, an international copyright treaty with over 150 other countries throughout the world. The U.S. honors foreign copyrights and vice versa.

I’m 16, can a minor claim copyright? Yes, there is no minimum age for an Author, as long as their contribution is an original expression in fixed form. However, each state has laws regulating business transactions that involve minors. Consult an attorney for advice on buying, selling, or using copyrights owned by a minor.

I’ve moved, do I have to tell the Copyright Office? You are not required by law to do so. You may file a Form CA to correct an old address, or file a new registration form on another work with your new address. This essentially gets your new address into the database. See Copyright Office Circular 12 for other ways to update your information and the fees involved.

Does the Copyright Office sell my personal information? No, but remember that part of the purpose of registration is to create a public record. The Copyright Office is open to the public, and anyone can search the records.

Is there a list of songs or movies in the public domain? Every year thousands of works fall into public domain, however the Copyright Office does not keep a current list of these works. For any particular work, you can search the records in person, hire an attorney or have the Copyright Office run a search for you. Check the prices and procedures on the Copyright Office website.

I bought the painting. Doesn’t that mean I own the copyright too? No, there is a difference between owning the thing and having the right to make copies of the work. You need a separate written agreement to transfer ownership of the copyright in addition to the ownership of the painting.

I bought several copyrights from an author, how do I register them? As long as the transfer is a valid written contract and signed by the Author, a registration can be filed with the Copyright Office listing you as the new Copyright Owner. Circular 12 covers the Recordation of Transfers and Other Documents.

No hable Englés. La Oficina del Derecho de Autor de los Estados Unidos tienes publicaciones en Español para autores.

I’m just using a little bit of that song – that’s fair use isn’t it? Probably not. To back up a claim of fair use, four questions must be asked. 1. What is the purpose and character of your use of the original? Are you using it for a commercial or nonprofit educational purpose? 2. What is the nature of the original copyrighted work itself? 3. How much of the original did you take? 4. How will your use affect the market for the original copyrighted work?

What's Fair Use? Fair use is not a free pass to do what you want, but a legal defense in court after you have already been sued for copyright infringement. You better ask a copyright attorney for advice regarding fair use issues.

Oops, I filled out the form with the wrong information. What do I do? File Form CA to correct or amplify information given to the Copyright Office in an earlier registration. It’s not cheap, so check the website for the current fee.

I forgot to put the check in the envelope. I forgot to put the deposit copy in the envelope. Applications and fees received without appropriate deposit copies will not be processed and ordinarily will be returned. Unpublished deposits without applications or fees ordinarily will be returned, as well. If you wish to register the work, you must deposit additional copies or phonorecords with your application and fee.