While many creatives in the entertainment industry believe (and are partly correct) that a work is copyrighted as soon as it is fixed in a tangible medium it still pays, often literally, to formally register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office, particularly where legal issues are concerned.
Guest Post by Justin M. Jacobson, The Jacobson Firm, P.C.
A common misconception in the entertainment industry is that an author has a “copyright registration” in the work upon completion and the publication of the created work. However, this is not true. Although the Berne Convention, which the United States is a signatory to, creates a “universal copyright” or copyright upon creation and publication of a work, the work is not “registered” until it has, in fact, been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Truth be told, all of the benefits of copyright ownership are not available in America until the Copyright has been registered.
Registering a copyright is as easy as preparing and submitting an application to the United States Copyright Office with the appropriate filing fee and a copy of the copyrighted material. Once the work is registered and the certification is issued, the benefits of the registration begin immediately and are retroactive to the original filing date of these elements.
While it is established that a copyright is automatically created in a work upon the completion of the original work of authorship, when it is fixed in a tangible medium of expression; a formal registration of the creative materials with the U.S. Copyright Office within three months of public release provides additional, valuable benefits to the creator of the work. Some of these benefits include that the work now becomes a matter of public record and is available for search within the U.S. Copyright Office and the Library of Congress. This makes it easy to search and verify the ownership and extent of an existing, copyrighted work. This permits an individual to quickly find and contact the creator in the event that the individual desires to use or license the copyrighted material.
Additionally, in order to bring a copyright infringement lawsuit when an author believes that one of their copyrighted works has been infringed upon, the work must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to instituting a lawsuit. A valid registration certificate constitutes prima facie evidence of valid copyright ownership in the work after five years. Also, if the owner has filed for registration prior to the infringement or within three months of publication of the work, the author may be entitled to recover actual damages incurred, statutory damages as well as attorney’s fees. These fees can exceed the actual damages incurred by the copyright owner.
A valid registration also defeats a defendant’s defense of being an “innocent infringer” and provides increased statutory damages for infringements found to be “willful.” It also allows for the owner to easily license and catalog the various rights in the works.
Therefore, while there is no requirement to register a work to receive a “copyright” in the creative work, the existence of a valid copyright registration certificate provides numerous benefits to protect the work as well as provides monetary and licensing benefits that would not exist without the certificate.
© 2015 The Jacobson Firm, P.C.