U.S. Copyright Law Information and Misinformation
Information about U.S. copyright law is widely available, unfortunately so is misinformation. Three principles that often require clarification when it comes to U.S. copyright law is the notion of automatic protection, copyright registration with the U.S. copyright office and using the familiar copyright symbol, ©.
Automatic Protection Under U.S. Copyright
What are the steps to acquiring copyright protection in the U.S.? Once an original work is created and written on paper, musically notated, or saved on your computer or a drive, the work has immediate and automatic copyright protection. You do not need to register the work or deposit a copy of it with the U.S. Copyright Office, nor use the well-known copyright symbol, ©.
This automatic copyright protection in the U.S. is a much-misunderstood concept. That’s because this wasn’t always true. It was necessary to register, deposit and use the © symbol until 1989 when there was a change in the U.S. copyright law.
Copyright Registration Under U.S. Copyright
Although the U.S. copyright law no longer requires registration, deposit or use of the © symbol, doing these things provides certain benefits if you ever have to enforce your rights. First, registration is necessary if you are a U.S. citizen or legal resident with a work first published in the U.S. and you want to initiate a copyright infringement lawsuit. If you register within three months of creating the work, you will have a legal presumption that your copyright is valid, and if you are successful you may receive special statutory damages without having to prove any fiscal harm, as well as attorney fees. Further, once your work is registered, those who want to use your work will be able to find information about it in the records of the U.S. Copyright Office and ask your permission to use your work.
Copyright Notice in U.S. Copyright Law
Although not mandatory, including a © notice on your work is recommended. It reminds people that copyright exists in your work and may deter some unauthorized uses of it. Read more about the international copyright symbol.
Automatic Copyright Protection in 172 Countries
Once a work is automatically protected in the U.S., it is protected in 172 (including the U.S.) countries around the world under the Berne Copyright Convention. Click to see further information about the Berne Copyright Convention and international copyright law.