A creative work is protected by copyright the moment the work assumes a tangible form—which in copyright circles is referred to as “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” Contrary to popular belief, providing a copyright notice and/or registering the work with the U.S. Copyright Office are not necessary to obtain basic copyright protection. But there are some steps that can be taken to enhance the creator’s chances for success if he or she turns to the courts to enforce a copyright:
Place a copyright notice on a published work. The copyright notice, or “copyright bug” as it is sometimes called, commonly appears in this form: “ (year of publication) (author or other basic copyright owner).” By placing this notice on a work that is published (distributed to the public without restriction), the author prevents others from copying the work without permission and claiming that they did not know that the work was covered by copyright. This can be important if the author is forced to file a lawsuit to enforce the copyright, since it is much easier to recover significant money damages from a deliberate (as opposed to innocent) copyright infringer.
Register works with the U.S. Copyright Office. Timely registration of the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office—that is, registration within three months of the work’s publication date, or before the infringement actually begins—makes it much easier to sue and recover from an infringer. Specifically, timely registration creates a legal presumption that the copyright is valid, and allows the copyright owner to recover up to $150,000 (and possibly attorney fees) without proving any actual monetary harm. Registration is accomplished by filing a simple form and depositing one or two samples of the work (depending on what it is) with the U.S. Copyright Office. The U.S. Copyright Office registration currently costs $30 for each work. (Sample registration forms are provided later in this part.)
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