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Does Your Work Need to be Registered at the U.S. Copyright Office? 

You’ve created some amazing content that you believe could be worth something and perhaps monetized, and now you are thinking about copyright. Do you need to register it with the U.S. Copyright Office?  

The Basics of Copyright: 

As soon as you create and fix an original work in a tangible form—such as writing it down, recording, or posting it, you automatically have copyright protection in the U.S. Formal registration at the Copyright Office is NOT required to get copyright protection. So… 

Why Register with the U.S. Copyright Office? 

Legal Evidence: Registration provides a public record of your copyright and a presumption that you own the creative work. This can be helpful if there is ever a dispute about it. 

Statutory Damages: If someone infringes on your work, having a registered copyright allows you to sue for “statutory damages” and attorneys’ fees in federal court. Statutory damages are monetary damages that are set in the Copyright Act and can be awarded by a judge or jury. They have a fixed range between $750 to $30,000 per infringed work but can be increased to as much as $150,000 if the infringement is intentional. Without registration, you can only sue for actual damages, which can be more difficult and time-consuming to prove. But if your work is registered, being able to obtain statutory damages can strengthen your settlement position when negotiating with an infringer given the potential for a large award if the matter goes to trial (and especially if multiple works have been infringed). 

Public Record: Registering makes it clear to the public who owns the work, potentially deterring unauthorized use. It also allows those who may be interested in licensing the work to determine who the owner is so they can reach out and contact them. 

Do I Need to Register Right Away? 

No, but it’s always beneficial to register within three months of the work’s publication. Doing so means that you can claim statutory damages and attorneys’ fees if someone infringes it. If you try to register your work after the three-month period has expired and after an act of infringement has already started, you won’t be able to get statutory damages—at least for that particular act of infringement.  


While registration at the U.S. Copyright Office is not mandatory for copyright protection, it offers significant advantages and is inexpensive and usually easy to obtain, especially if you ever need to enforce your rights in court. Think of registration as an added layer of armor that protects your creative stroke of genius. After all, if you are going to spend your time and energy creating some cool and original content that people want, why not protect it fully? 


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