The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide to Filing a Copyright
So you’ve finished your great American novel, written revolutionary software code, recorded your new hit song or taken a dazzling photo, and now you want to protect it.
It’s time to file for a copyright, but the process can be tedious, and if done incorrectly it can take you months or even a year to correct.
This is an in-depth guide on the registration process to get a certificate of copyright through the US Copyright Office. To understand copyright law (and what it protects) in more depth click here.
There are two ways to file for a copyright: digitally and by mail. Read about each option to determine which is best (or legally required) for you.
Processing Time: 3-4 months
File digitally if you…
- Will be submitting an eligible file type for electronic filing
- Are seeking a basic registration of a single work (not created by a group)
- Have unpublished work, or it has only been published electronically
- Have published work for which the deposit is identifying material, or there is a special agreement whereby a hard-copy deposit must be sent separately
- Have an email address
- Want to save a little money
Create an eCO account here with the government’s Electronic Copyright System.
Prepare your browser:
- Disable your browser’s pop-up blocker
- Disable third party toolbars (here’s how)
- Make sure you have an approved browser: Firefox 2.0, Internet Explorer 6.0 or Netscape Navigator 7.02 (Chrome and Safari are not certified for the eCO system)
Login here and click “Register a New Claim” to begin filling out your application. The navigation bar for the registration process will be on the left, and it will guide you through a series of different fill-in-the-blank application pages. Fill out all sections completely, and click “Continue” to save your work and move onto the next step. There will be examples and helpful links along the way; if you are confused you can click them for further guidance. You can always click the “Save for Later” button at any time and access the application later.
After reviewing the application, you will be required to submit a payment in Checkout before uploading your work. You can pay by credit or debit card, electronic bank transfer or a deposit account.
The page will prompt you to submit your work, either electronically or via hard copy. You can upload an electronic copy if it is…
- Unpublished work
- Work published only electronically
- Published work for which the deposit requirement is identifying material
- Published work for which there are special agreements requiring a hard-copy deposit to be sent separately to the US Copyright Office
If a hard-copy deposit is required, you can still submit the application electronically, and send copies of your work to the Copyright Office. If you plan to send via hard copy be sure to generate a shipping slip in eCO, and print it to be sent with the hard copy.
Once you have registered (congratulations!) you can review your application under “My Applications” at any time. You should expect to receive a confirmation email, and to receive your certificate in 3 to 4.5 months.
Technical problems: 202-707-3002 or email@example.com
Registration problems: 202-707-3000 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Processing Time: 5-8 months
File on paper if you…
- Are filing a Group Registration Form, are correcting an error, and a few more use cases found here (scroll down)
- Don’t have a file type that is eligible file type for electronic filing
- Feel uncomfortable paying online
Determine the type of work that you wish to copyright and download the appropriate application form (you will need Adobe Acrobat reader) and print it out:
- Literary (Fill out Form TX)
- Visual Arts (Fill out Form VA)
- Performing Arts (Fill out Form PA)
- Sound Recordings (Fill out Form SR)
- Single Serials (Form SE)
Have a Lot of Work to Copyright?
If you are listing a large amount of content, you can submit a Continuation Sheet in conjunction with the above forms to include additional information.
Filing as a Group?
See the appropriate forms for group work here.
Can’t or Don’t Want to Print the Forms Yourself?
Request a form here, and they will be sent to you.
Note that the U.S. Copyright Office requests that you print on both sides of the paper.
Fill out the entire application in black ink only, following the detailed instructions set out on the first few pages. For any questions, call (202) 707-3000 or 1-877-476-0778 (toll free) from 8:30am-5pm EST Monday through Friday.
Enclose the application, a check or money order payable to the “Register of Copyrights,” and your copyrighted work (i.e. your transcript or book). Be sure that any precious items, such as photos or CDs are properly wrapped and protected.
Unlike the electronic filing, you will not receive a confirmation when the Copyright Office receives your works. You can expect to receive your certificate of registration in the mail anywhere between 5 to 8 months.
Rochelle is an experienced business writer, marketer and researcher. She is currently the Senior Editor and Content Producer at Intuit.