Copyright Secured Automatically upon Creation
The way in which copyright protection is secured is frequently
misunderstood. No publication or registration or other action in the
Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. There are, however,
certain definite advantages to registration. See "Copyright
Copyright is secured automatically when the
work is created, and a work is "created" when it is fixed in a copy or
phonorecord for the first time. "Copies" are material objects from which a
work can be read or visually perceived either directly or with the aid of
a machine or device, such as books, manuscripts, sheet music, film,
videotape, or microfilm. "Phonorecords" are material objects embodying
fixations of sounds (excluding, by statutory definition, motion picture
soundtracks), such as cassette tapes, CDs, or LPs. Thus, for example, a
song (the "work") can be fixed in sheet music ("copies") or in phonograph
disks ("phonorecords"), or both.
If a work is prepared over a period of time, the part of the work that
is fixed on a particular date constitutes the created work as of that
In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to
make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright.
However, registration is not a condition of copyright protection. Even
though registration is not a requirement for protection, the copyright law
provides several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners
to make registration. Among these advantages are the following:
- Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
- Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is
necessary for works of U. S. origin.
- If made before or within 5 years of publication, registration will
establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright
and of the facts stated in the certificate.
- If registration is made within 3 months after publication of the
work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and
attorney's fees will be available to the copyright owner in court
actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is
available to the copyright owner.
- Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the
registration with the U. S. Customs Service for protection against the
importation of infringing copies.
Registration may be made at any time within the life of the copyright.
Unlike the law before 1978, when a work has been registered in unpublished
form, it is not necessary to make another registration when the work
becomes published, although the copyright owner may register the published
edition, if desired.
The use of a copyright notice is no longer required under U. S. law,
although it is often beneficial. Because prior law did contain such a
requirement, however, the use of notice is still relevant to the copyright
status of older works.
Notice was required under the 1976 Copyright Act. This requirement was
eliminated when the United States adhered to the Berne Convention,
effective March 1, 1989. Although works published without notice before
that date could have entered the public domain in the United States, the
Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) restores copyright in certain foreign
works originally published without notice.
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