As discussed above, copyright protection is automatic. Nothing need be filed with the
Copyright Office in order for the copyright owner to benefit from the minimum protections
provided by the copyright laws. However, in order to fully benefit, the copyrighted work
should be registered.
Copyright registration is a legal formality whose purpose is to provide a means by
which the public can inspect the work in order to determine the scope of the author's
copyright claim. Registration is not a prerequisite to copyright protection, with one
exception. In most cases, a copyright must be registered before the author may bring suit
to enforce his copyright. The author may register his work anytime prior to filing suit.
There are specific advantages, however, of prompt registration:
- registration provides a way to resolve disputes concerning the authorship or date of
creation of a work.
- when the copyright is registered before publication of the work or within five years of
the first publication, registration constitutes prima facie evidence of the validity and
ownership of the copyright, and the facts stated in the copyright certificate; and
- when the copyright is registered even more promptly (i.e., within three months after
first publication of the work), the copyright owner may elect statutory damages. Statutory
damages are particular damages, the amount of which is set by the copyright laws. This is
important in cases where any one infringement causes little monetary damage to the
copyright owner, because statutory damages set minimums for monetary recovery (even when
there is no proof of actual damage or loss). Statutory damages provide for the recovery of
attorney's fees as well.
If the work is not registered within three months from first publication, the only
remedies available are (1) an injunction against further infringement; (2) the recovery of
profits from the infringer; and (3) other provable damages. However, if registration is
made before the infringement, then statutory damages are available.
One registration of the copyright is sufficient. It is permissible (although not
necessary) to register again after publication.