Registering a Copyright: The Hidden Costs of Waiting

You can wait to register your copyright—but at a potential cost.
You can wait to register your copyright—but it might cost you.
As a blogger, I like to hang around various online communities, joining the conversation and getting a feel for what people are talking about and what sort of information they’re looking for. It gives me a chance to connect and read other writers’ material, and it has the sometimes unexpected result of giving me an awareness of some of the misinformation out there around certain topics.

Copyright law being the complex, nuanced, and convoluted creature that it is, it’s no surprise that there is a level of, shall we say, mystique that shrouds the topic. There is one rumor in particular that I would like to break down for you.

The theory goes a little something like this:

“There’s no reason to register your copyright with the Copyright Office—protection is automatic.”

And this is true: your work is your own simply by creating it. As long as it exists somewhere outside of your own head, you automatically own the copyright to your work. In fact, let’s look at the Copyright Office’s circular on this very topic:

Who Can Claim Copyright?
Excerpt from “Copyright Basics,” p.2 (USCO)

At this point I would like to remind you all that I am not a lawyer, and this is not to be taken as legal advice. I am a blogger, one who happens to have been around a heck of a lot of Copyright Office material and is pretty quick with a screenshot.

Now, my problem with this one-size-fits-all answer is that it’s overly simplistic. No, you don’t need an official registration in order to be protectedbut exercising that protection is another story entirely.

Further down in the same circular is the following:

Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of US origin. From Copyright Basics, USCO publication.
Excerpt from “Copyright Basics,” p.7 (USCO)

Sure, fine. Waiting until someone abuses your material and then registering for a copyright is completely legally valid.

But, since a copyright registrationwhich typically costs $35can take up to 9 months or even longer, by the time it gets to that, you’ll probably want to rush the registration.

And how much will it cost to rush a copyright registration filing? Back to the Copyright Office:

Special handling for registration of qualified copyright claims fee to expedite processing of qualified claims special handling fee per claim $700
From “US Copyright Office — Fees”

Again, this isn’t legal advice. It isn’t even financial advice. I’m simply pointing out that the fact that while waiting until you want to sue someone to register your copyright is 100% legal—personally, I’d rather spend $35 now than $760 later, amiright?

You might not be the type of person that would ever intend to file suit against anyone. This has to be your decision, and I’m not telling you what to do with your intellectual property. It is simply my intention to point out the potential fees involved in waiting until copyright infringement becomes a problem. All decisions about your intellectual property should be made with the input of your lawyer or legal advisor.

[Check out Click&Inc’s intellectual property forms to help you understand—and protect—your legal rights.]

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