The Importance of Registering Copyrights

April 03, 2015

Copyright protection in an original work is automatic upon creation. However, the available remedies for infringement depends on the actions taken by the owner of the copyright after the work is created. An essential step in securing the maximum amount of protection is to register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Some of the key benefits of registering a copyright are highlighted below.

First, registration is a prerequisite to bringing a copyright infringement action in federal court (17 U.S.C. 411). It is preferable to file a lawsuit for copyright related claims in federal court because, among other things, federal judges are likely to have more experience in intellectual property matters, including copyright issues. Although other common law claims might be available, it might not be possible to bring those claims in federal court because of lack subject matter jurisdiction.

Second, registering the work before or within 5 years of first publication establishes prima facie evidence of the facts stated in the registration certificate, i.e., ownership and validity (17 U.S.C. 410). That is, the plaintiff is not required to prove that it owns a valid copyright. Instead, ownership and validity is a rebuttable presumption and the defendant would be required to disprove it if challenged.

Third, registering the work within 3 months of first publication or prior to infringement affords the owner the right to recover - (i) statutory damages: $750 to up to $30,000 per work infringed, and up to $150,000 per work infringed if infringement is willful; and (ii) costs and attorney's fees (17 U.S.C. 412, 504(c) and 505). Statistics show that less than 1 percent of copyright infringement lawsuits to go trial and many believe that the availability of statutory damages and attorney's fees is the reason for this. Without the availability of such remedies, plaintiff's remedy is actual damages and infringer's profits (17 U.S.C. 504(b)), which could be minimal.

Fourth, the owner could record the registration with the U.S. Customs Service for protection against importation of infringing product (17 U.S.C. 509). This could be an effective way to deter the infringer from participating in further unwanted acts.

Finally, having a registration and the jurisdiction of a federal court provides the owner the possibility of an injunction against the infringer (17 U.S.C. 502). Again, an injunction will most likely stop further infringement.

Please note that the above discussion is for general information purposes only. For more information, please contact John H. Choi & Associates LLC at or 201.580.0816.