Copyright Basics FAQ - How Do I Register A Copyright?

Updated May 13, 2014

Copyright Basics
By Library of Congress Copyright Office

The US Copyright Office has a wealth of information available on their website on the copyright registration process.

What is a copyright?

Copyright is an original work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression --- such as a song, book, or sound recording.

What is the difference between a trademark and a copyright?

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. Examples of well-known trademarks include NIKE, CHANEL and ZYRTEC.  Click here to read more about trademark basics.

Copyright protection arises at the moment of creation — when you fix an original work in a tangible expression. Follow through with a copyright application to gain additional protections.

What is a “Poor Man’s Copyright”?

The practice of mailing a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a "Poor Man's Copyright."  There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration. In the event of an infringement lawsuit it may not even be admissible to prove creation and ownership of the work.

Do I need a lawyer to file a copyright application?

NO. Anyone may complete and submit an application to the Copyright Office.

Where do I file a copyright application?

Copyright applications may be filed through the U.S. Copyright Office.  More information is available at

Which copyright application form should I use?

The Copyright Office has transitioned to an online filing system to replace the old TX, SR, PA paper forms.  To use the eCO Online Filing system click here.

What does it cost to file a copyright application?

As of May 1, 2014, the current filing fees charged by the Copyright Office are:

  • $65 per hard copy application;

  • $35 per eCO Online Filing application if there is a single author, same claimant, one work, not for hire; or

  • $55 per eCO Online Filing application for multiple authors, claimants, works; and work for hire.

Do I need to register my work to have copyright protection?

The short answer is No. Copyright protection arises at the moment of creation — when you fix an original work in a tangible expression. Follow through with a copyright application to gain additional protections.  Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.

How long is my work protected by copyright?

  • Life of author plus 70 years for works created or published on or after January 1, 1978 and are not deemed a work for hire;

  • 95 years from publication for works published with proper notice and renewal (if necessary) between 1923 and 1977.

Creative Commons is all the protection I need, right?

Creative Commons Licenses do not give you copyright protection. The licenses available from Creative Commons are simply that … licenses to help you define the rights and obligations by which other people can use your works.  Creative Commons is simply one option available to you for licensing your works to third parties.

This post contains affliate links. That means if you click a link I may receive a benefit.