Is a US Federal Copyright Registration Required for Protection?

Is a US Federal Copyright Registration Required to have Copyright Protection?

Do you need a federal copyright registration to have copyright protection?  Well, the answer is both no and yes.  Here’s what I mean.  A federal copyright registration is not a condition of copyright protection.  You have copyright rights the moment you fix your work in a tangible medium; even if you don’t publish it.   But, the US government wants you to file for registration.  So, they’ve created some powerful incentives to get you to do that. There are four incentives in particular that make it advantageous to seek a formal registration with the US Copyright Office. They are as follows:

  1. You must register with the US Copyright Office before you can file an action for copyright infringement in federal court.  That’s an extremely big incentive since the federal court is where you need to seek injunctive relief and money damages.
  2. If you secure a federal copyright registration before, or within five years of publication, during litigation, your copyright will be presumed valid. This means that you do not have to spend time and money proving validity during trial.
  3. If you register within three months after publication of your work, or prior to an infringement of your work, you have the opportunity to get statutory damages and attorney’s fees. This essentially means that without even proving your damages or the infringer’s profits, you can get an award of statutory damages for up to $30,000 for each work that’s infringed.  And, if you can show that the infringer knew they were infringing and they did it anyway, the court can increase that statutory damage award up to $150,000. 
  4. Copyright registration allows the copyright owner to record the registration with the U.S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies. 
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