The United States Copyright Office has a wealth of information about copyright laws and procedures, but the question still remains about whether or not you should register a copyright when you create something tangible that qualifies for a copyright.
To determine this, let’s first look at what the US Copyright Office says a copyright actually is: “Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.” (retrieved November 26, 2006 from:
Now, there are two main types of copyrights: registered and non-registered. Let’s look at the differences between the two.
A non-registered copyright is automatically granted to the author or creator of any original work the instant that work is put in tangible form. In other words, as soon as you have created the work, in a tangible form (such as an article, novel, manuscript, picture, etc).If you created an original work, you automatically hold a copyright on the work.
In fact, the work doesn’t even have to be 版權授權 complete in order to be protected under a non-registered copyright. For example, if you are writing an article and you have five paragraphs written, but the article will be ten paragraphs long, as soon as you finish each word, each paragraph, that part of the article is protected already under a non-registered copyright. Same with a novel, manuscript, or other type of unfinished work. Photographs are copyrighted the minute the photo is snapped, and therefore on the film, and then any print or copy of it is also copyright protected under a non-registered copyright.
Now, ideas cannot be copyrighted, either registered or non-registered. For example, if you have a concept for a novel, the outline for the novel is not copyright protected. The idea for the plot or storyline is not copyrighted. For articles, the idea of an article topic cannot be copyrighted. For photography, the scene or the set up idea of how to take the photo, how to pose a subject, etc cannot be copyrighted. Only the work itself is able to have an automatic non-registered copyright protection.
So if a non-registered copyright is automatically granted to any tangible work created like this, why bother with registering a copyright?
So essentially, registering a copyright with the US Copyright Office provides a public record of the actual work, making it known to the public that you created it. Additionally, copyright registration allows you to seek statutory damages in court should someone steal your work and claim it as their own. It should be understand that actual damages can be award with or without copyright registration, but registration is required for statutory damages. Copyright registration also protects against importation internationally of copyrighted works.
Copyright registration current costs about $45 for everything except periodicals and serials. This is a one time fee that secures a copyright registration on the work submitted, exactly as it is submitted.
Only you can decide if registering a copyright is worth the expense and time to do so. Personally, I don’t register a copyright on any of my articles, but I do on all of my books and manuscripts. For poetry, I typically compile my poetry into a volume of sorts, and register the copyright for the entire volume, which does indeed protect my poetry from being stolen and used without permission, but doesn’t individually copyright each poem.