You are a creator. Whether it be literature, music, movies, YouTube videos, photographs, or any number of other forms of expression, you create. Maybe you create because you love to do it, maybe you create because it’s your job, maybe it’s both. Whatever the case may be, you have the right to protect your creations. Under the law, the original things you create are called “works” or “works of authorship” and they are protected automatically. However, even though your works may be protected, you may not be able to enforce your rights unless you take the right steps.
Right now, you are probably thinking “that doesn’t make any sense. How can I automatically have a right to protect my work, but not be able to enforce it?” Don’t worry, it is a bit confusing. All you need to know for now is that while your work is automatically protected, how you can actively protect it is limited if you do not register it.
As you probably already know, when someone uses your work without your permission, it’s called “infringement.” For instance, if you write a book and someone else prints and sells that book without your permission, it is likely infringement. Of course, as a creator—and maybe even someone who depends on making funds from your works—it is in your best interest to prevent infringement. However, if your work is not registered with the United States Copyright Office, stopping infringement can be difficult or even impossible.
One of the best ways (and sometimes the only way) to stop infringement is to sue the infringer. According to a recent Supreme Court decision, in order to sue someone for infringement on your work, your work must be registered. Before that Court decision, there was a bit of confusion as to whether the law required you to simply file for registration in order to sue for infringement, or whether it required you to actually have your work fully registered. After the decision, we now know that a work must be fully registered in order for you to sue. That is why registering your works is so important.
Registration is a fairly inexpensive and quick, but the benefit is huge. The Copyright Office claims that registration can take anywhere between six and thirty-seven months, depending on the size of the work and whether authenticity is difficult to prove. But, even if the wait is a bit long, the ability to actively protect your work should not be undervalued. When you hold a copyright registration for your works, you have the ability to fully defend your work against infringement. This includes suing for infringement and collecting money for the wrong that has been done to you. This compensation you receive can include lost profits (from others benefiting from selling your work) as well as what are called “statutory damages,” which can be quite substantial. If your work is registered, you can even have the cost of your attorney paid for by the infringer.
The works you create are valuable. They are valuable to you and to others who get to enjoy them. The Constitution of the United States even recognizes how valuable they are in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8. That is why, when you create an original work, that work is protected for your entire lifetime, plus seventy years after that. However, if you do not register your work, you are not doing everything you can to protect your valuable creations. Make sure you are able to defend your work with every tool you can have under the law. Copyright your creations, the cost is small, but the reward is big.
The best way for you go about copyrighting your works is by seeking the help of professionals. Partners, Rachel Brenke and Andrew Connors have become intimately knowledgeable with intellectual property laws, including copyright registration and litigation. Their firm has become highly sought-after for their expertise and knowledge in this very intense area of the law. If you are interested in protecting your work by seeking copyright registration, don’t hesitate to contact Connors and Brenke to help you through your next steps. While we are Virginia-based intellectual property lawyers, we have offices around Virginia and work in many states through partnerships with other attorneys.
Written by third-year practicing intern John Riordan under Connors & Brenke.