Most writers know to affix the copyright symbol to an inner page in their books, but many do not know—or care to make the effort—to register their books with the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO). I can tell you that not depositing a copy of your hard work with USCO might be a mistake.
First, let’s answer the question what exactly is copyright? A copyright is an original work of authorship fixed in a tangible form, such as a book or a song. Copyright automatically occurs when an original work is fixed in a tangible form for the first time. So, you don’t have to do anything extra to own the copyright to works you originally create. As the copyright holder, you have to right to keep it or sell it, just as any other property you own.
Authors should use the © whenever they want to indicate that their work is protectable by copyright. You don’t have to have a registered copyright in order to use the ©. However, you should use the © in a form that gives proper notice that you own the copyright. Proper notice includes the symbol“©” or the word “Copyright” or the abbreviation “Copr.”; the year of first publication of the work; and the name of the copyright owner. I have copyright notices in the correct format on my website and in all of my books, thus giving everyone notice not to copy my work without permission.
Although registration of your copyright in USCO is not a condition of securing a copyright, I’d advise authors to register their copyrights. The main benefit in registering is the ability to bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement in federal court, which is where the copyright holder can receive the big bucks.
Another benefit is that if you register your copyright before anyone infringes on that right, you may have the ability to be awarded attorney’s fees—which can be in the six-figure or higher range—in addition to either statutory or actual damages in a lawsuit for copyright infringement. Additionally, if your copyright registration is made within five years of your book’s or song’s publication, the information provided on the registration is accepted by the court as true. Just last week, in the case Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.Com, LLC, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a copyright claimant may commence a federal infringement lawsuit when USCO registers a copyright, and that upon registration, the copyright owner can recover for infringement that occurred both before and after registration.
USCO has made the process of registering your copyright extremely easy. Their website is: https://www.copyright.gov Their online registration is straightforward and only requires a nominal fee to complete the process. The copyright holder is the claimant on the application. I point this out because for those of us who self-publish our books through our own companies, we, as authors, are still the actual copyright holders. After paying the fee, you will upload a copy of the published book and the cover. It takes several months to receive the Certificate of Registration showing your book has been received and registered by USCO.
An example to consider is the copyright infringement lawsuit brought by the family of late singer Marvin Gaye against singers Robin Thicke and Pharrell for infringement of Gaye’s song Got To Give It Up. The court found in favor of the Gaye family and they were awarded a judgment of almost $5 million in addition to half the royalties and publishing revenue from Thicke’s song Blurred Lines.
I hope my fellow writers will take the extra steps to register their copyrights with USCO. Even if you believe nobody will steal the stories you’ve created in your books, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Plus, you now have the added incentive of knowing you may be able to recover for infringement that happens even before you register the copyright.