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How can I secure a copyright?

This is a frequently misunderstood topic because many people believe that you must register your work before you can claim copyright. However, no publication, registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is "created" when it is fixed in a “copy or a phonorecord for the first time.”  For example, a song can be fixed in sheet music or on a CD, or both.  Although registration with the Copyright Office is not required to secure protection, it is highly recommended for the following reasons:

  • Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.

  • Registration is necessary before an infringement suit may be filed in court (for works of U. S. origin).

  • If made before or within 5 years of publication, registration establishes 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.