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Getting Copyright Protection for Your Work

By Jill Gilbert Welytok

What exactly do you need to do to get copyright protection for your work? Absolutely nothing! Copyright protection is automatic.

The Website for U.S. Copyright Office, located at www.copyright.gov, explains "Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form so that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device." You are not required to register, although registration confers additional benefits.

"Free and automatic" wasn't always the case.

Prior to 1988, authors, artists and creators seeking protection in U.S. markets were required to register their claims with the U.S. Patent and Copyright office. They also had to place a copyright notice on all published copies. The notice, as you may recall, consisted of the word or abbreviation for the word "copyright" or the symbol ©. These requirements were liberalized by the 1976 revision of the copyright act, and abandoned altogether in 1988 to fall into line with European nations.

As a condition of joining the highly desirable Berne International Copyright convention, the U.S. had to abandon all formal requirements for copyright protection. European countries did not require formal registration, and the U.S. insistence on formalities was perceived as inequitable. Europeans wondered why Americans should be afforded instant rights in their countries, while they had to comply with seemly complex formal registration requirements to be afforded similar protections in the U.S. The presumed unfamiliarity with American laws and institutions also furthered the perception that European writers and artists were subject to a U.S. home court advantage when it came to obtaining protections.

Currently, in the U.S. registration is considered optional, because it doesn't affect your rights in work that's subject to copyright. However, the registration process becomes very important if you actually want to sue someone.

The law provides that in order to bring an action for copyright infringement, you need to complete the registration process. Section 411 of the 1976 Copyright Act specifically provides that registration is a prerequisite for bringing an infringement action. The basic registration currently costs $30, and the forms are available online.

Caution: While registering and designating your work with the © symbol are now optional formalities, these measures are strongly recommended to expand and protect your rights.


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