Your work receives common-law copyright protection under U.S. law after entering the public domain. You might think this means you don’t have to do anything else to reinforce your copyright, but that is not the case. Instead, relying on common-law copyright alone could make any legal battles you face more complex and protracted.
You can only gain recorded evidence proving ownership of your work by registering your copyright. The challenge is that the copyright registration process takes time and several steps. Here, we examine the steps required to register your copyright and what you need to do to complete each one.
At the most basic level, there are three steps to complete when registering copyright:
These three basic steps have several sub-steps contained within them. This article will provide a step-by-step guide that takes you through every detail to get your copyright.
The easiest way to file a copyright application is to do it online. Head to https://eco.copyright.gov and click the “Log in to eCo” button, even if you don’t have an account. It will take you to the main eCo registration system website. Look towards the top-left of the page to find the “User Login” section and click the link that says, “If you are a new user, click here to register.”
The site will show a form asking for basic details, such as your name, password, and email address. Fill out this form and submit it.
Once you’ve created your account and logged in, you should see a navigation bar on the left-hand side of the page. Scroll down to the “Copyright Registration” section and click the “Register a New Claim” link.
You’ll arrive at a page with three yes or no questions. It will ask you if you’re registering a single piece of work, whether you’re the sole owner, and if the work contains material that only comes from the author.
If you select “no” for any of these questions, you must complete a “Standard Application” rather than an online application. A tutorial for this type of application is available directly from eCO.
If you answered yes to all three questions, click “Start Registration.” You’ll see a drop-down box that asks you to confirm the type of work you’re submitting. Choose your category and click the “Continue” button.
If you’re unsure of which category your work falls into, here’s a little more information on each one:
These are audiovisual pieces, such as films, videos, documentaries, and video games.
You should select this option if you’re submitting a script or screenplay, any work that requires choreography, or any musical works, whether they have lyrics or not.
Any sound recordings fit this category, including the literary, musical, or dramatic works that inspired them. Note that you must own every aspect of the recording, including the underlying work. You likely need to fill out the Standard Application mentioned in step two if you don’t.
Any literary work fits into this category, including fiction, nonfiction, catalogs, reference works, textbooks, and poetry.
This category covers individual issues of a series of works that will continue indefinitely, such as magazines, newspapers, and similar periodicals. However, it does not cover literary or musical works that are part of a larger series.
On the next screen, click the “New” button. You’ll arrive at the title creation screen, where you’ll see a drop-down box and a text box.
Select “Title of Work Being Registered” from the drop-down box and enter the title of the piece you’re submitting in the textbox. Then, click the “Save” button to go back to the first screen. Click “Continue” to go to the Publication section.
Use the drop-down box to confirm whether the work has been published or not.
If you’ve already published the work, you must enter the year, date, and country you published the work in. If the work is unpublished, enter the year of completion. Click the “Continue” button.
The next screen asks you for the author’s details. You can enter details for an individual author or an entity, but you can’t enter both. You also need to enter your name, date of birth, and citizenship status. You can enter a pseudonym here.
When you’re ready, save the details and click the “Claimants” link on the left side of the page.
If you’re the sole owner of the copyright, click the “Add Me” button. However, if you aim to achieve copyright for somebody else, click “New” and enter their details. Click the “Continue” button when you’ve completed this step.
This section is where you can let the Copyright Office know if your work contains any already existing material. If it doesn’t, you can leave this section blank.
If it does, check the relevant boxes and enter the registration details for that work. You must also check the boxes related to the new material you’re adding to the pre-existing work. Again, click the “Continue” button when complete.
Leave this screen blank if you do not want to grant any rights or permissions for other people to use the copyrighted work. If you plan to allow others to use or publish the piece, enter their details in the provided fields. Click “Continue” when complete.
If you leave this section blank, you can still provide permission to somebody at a later date.
Enter the details of the person or entity that the Copyright Office should contact if they have any questions. This person will likely be yourself unless you’re copyrighting the work on behalf of somebody else. Click “Continue.”
You should now enter an address you’d like to receive the copyright certificate. Again, click “Continue” when complete.
Special handling is a service the Copyright Office provides for those who need expedited delivery of their certification. It costs $800 on top of the fees you already need to pay for the copyright registration. It also requires you to have one of three compelling reasons for special handling:
If you require special handling, click the “Special Handling” checkbox and provide your compelling reason. You’ll also need to check a box to verify that you’re the author of the work in question and provide any specific comments on why you need special handling.
Leave this section blank if you don’t require special handling. When complete, click “Continue.”
Check the box to confirm that you’re the author and owner of the work or an agent acting on their behalf. Then, enter the name of the person who’s certifying your application. Click “Continue” to land on the final review screen.
Confirm all of the details you’ve entered are correct and that every link on the left side of the screen has a checkmark to say that it’s complete. Click “Add to Cart” and then “Checkout” if everything is ready.
The standard fee for a basic copyright claim is $85. This price drops to $65 if you’re the sole author on a single piece of work that you won’t make available for hire. Of course, you’ll also need to add an $800 fee to this total if you’ve requested special handling.
There are three options for payment of your fees:
Select the appropriate option and enter the relevant payment details. Authorize the charge and click the “Submit Payment” option to complete the payment
Once you’ve made your payment, the site will prompt you to submit your work to the Copyright Office. You can do this by uploading the work electronically or mailing a hard copy.
If you wish to upload the work via the eCo website, there are conditions to submit the work electronically. It must meet one of the following criteria:
If the work does not meet one of these requirements, you must send a hard copy.
For hard copy submission, click the “Create Shipping Slip” button to get a shipping slip for the work. You must send the “best edition,” such as a published version of the work that you’ve made available for sale.
Package the work appropriately and attach the shipping label before sending it via the postal service or express delivery service. Please note that it may take several days for your work to arrive at the Copyright Office, and the Copyright Office keeps all hard copies it receives.
The final step is also the most time-consuming. The Copyright Office typically takes three months to approve your copyright registration and issue a certificate. However, it can take longer if the Copyright Office has any questions or if there are errors in your submission. Some filings can take up to nine months to a year to complete.
You can check the status of your copyright claim on the eCo website. Log in to your account, find the “Open Cases” section, and click on the case number associated with your claim for more information on your status.
Copyright registration is a long process that requires many forms and several months of waiting. However, if you receive your official certification, you gain more legal protection against people who infringe on your copyright.
At Trademark Engine, we’re experts at completing copyright claims. We’ll work with you to ensure the Copyright Office receives all of the details it needs to register your copyright. We’ll also file your claim for you, track it, and offer 24/7 customer support. Find out more about how our copyright services can make the process easier for you.
Trademark Engine is not a law firm and none of the information on this website constitutes or is intended to convey legal advice. General information about the law is not the same as advice about the application of the law in a particular factual or legal situation. Individual facts and circumstances as well as legal principles including but not limited to the ones referenced on this website can affect the outcome of any given situation.
Trademark Engine cannot and does not guarantee that an application will be approved by the USPTO, that a mark will be protected from infringement under common US trademark law, or that any ensuing litigation or dispute will lead to a favorable outcome. If you want or have an interest in obtaining legal advice with respect to a specific situation or set of circumstances, you should consult with the lawyer of your choice.