Why Should I Bother to Register My Copyright If My Work is Automatically Protected?

We get this question a lot.  Artists, designers and other creative entrepreneurs are busy people!  So, why should you go through the trouble of registering your copyrights and putting copyright notices on your works if, under U.S. Copyright law, you have copyright protection as soon as your work is “fixed” in a tangible medium?

We understand the instinct that you surely have better things to do with your time and money, but notice and registration are what give our copyright law its teeth!

Let’s say you discover that a major fashion retailer has copied your artwork on t-shirts and has been selling it all over the world?  You file a lawsuit and the judge finds in your favor.  You won!

Or maybe you wrote a catchy melody and uploaded a YouTube video of yourself playing your guitar and singing it.  A major brand uses part of your melody in its new commercials for cleaning products.  You file a lawsuit and the judge finds in your favor.  You won!

Having a valid copyright registration may mean the difference of being awarded $100,000 in statutory damages, plus an order that the other side has to pay your attorneys fees, versus having only a piece of paper from the Court saying you were right and a $15,000 bill from your lawyer you now have to pay.

In other words, to really benefit from copyright law, you need to have a copyright registration certificate from the U.S. Copyright Office, and you have to let others know you claim copyright protection in your content.

Statutory Damages and Attorneys’ Fees

Current copyright statutory damages are set out in 17 U.S.C. § 504.  They range from $750 to $30,000 per work, an amount to be determined at the discretion of the Court depending on the facts of the case.  However, if a defendant can show that they were “not aware and had no reason to believe” they were infringing copyright, they may ask the Court to have the damages reduced to $200 per work.[1]  This is why providing notice is key.

If you can show the defendant was willful when it infringed on your copyright – it was deliberate, voluntary and intentional – a judge is authorized to award you damages of up to $150,000 per work![2]

Also, if you did properly place some kind of copyright notice information on or in your work, and the defendant intentionally removed it before they copied you, they could be liable for an additional $200 to $25,000 per occurrence under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)![3]  An example of this would be a website owner cropping your photograph in a way that the copyright notice information you’d place in the bottom corner, and then publishing the image online without your permission.

In other words, statutory damages can really add up, and they allow you to avoid having to hire damages experts to prepare costly reports and testify on exactly how much you were financially damaged by your infringer’s activities.  Moreover, attorneys’ fees provisions means if you are successful in your lawsuit, the other side pays your lawyer’s bill.  Even if a lawsuit is never filed, copyright registration and the mere threat of statutory damages can provide you leverage to protect yourself and your business.

What Is “Notice”?

A good copyright notice lets the public know that (1) the content is protected by copyright; (2) who the author or owner is; and (3) when it was first published.

Beyond this, there is no required form or method for providing this information.

One way is:

Copyright © 2018 Sally Jones.  All rights reserved.

Or simply:

© 2018 Sally Jones

You could also provide more detail:

Copyright by Sally Jones.  Originally published November 29, 2017.  Revised on January 2, 2018.

You may have noticed major movie studios like Roman numerals:

© Time Warner Studio MCMXCVIII

In other words, so long as you provide the required notice, the form and format is up to you.

If you have more questions about registering your copyright, or think your copyright is being infringed upon, give our Intellectual Property team call.

 

[1] 17 U.S.C. § 504(c)(2)

[2] Id.

[3] 17 U.S.C § 1203(d)

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