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I promise this will not be a dry legal post. Nor will it be a legal thriller by any means. Just a quick rundown on why we have copyright, and why you might want to use the U.S. copyright office’s online registration.
The primary reason we have copyright is to spur on innovation and creativity. Copyright is defined as “a form of protection provided by the government to the authors of original works of authorship, covering literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.” Without the protections provided by our copyright laws, many books and songs and other artistic projects we enjoy today would not exist.
No matter how your creative work is distributed and discovered by others, it is considered intellectual property, and therefore protected. In some instances, your work might not have any value to anyone but you (and your mom/spouse/best friend/dog). In that case, you may want to just place a copyright notice on the material and not bother to register. But if your work is valuable enough to publish, it's valuable enough to register.
This is probably most relevant to authors. Fictional works sometimes get sold to various people, for various reasons – like being adapted into TV or movie scripts, or translated into other languages for printing or distributing in other countries. Without proof of registered copyright in hand, an author cannot sell these rights off (and make those millions), because those ideas won’t be proven to be “owned” by the author.
While most nonfiction authors don’t usually need to have copyrights registered for things like TV scripts or movies (except in cases of true crime or memoirs), their ideas might be completely unique, and it’s a good idea to protect them with a registered copyright.
Copyright registration is a fairly simple process. An application form and fee can be sent to the U.S. Copyright Office: http://www.copyright.gov. It's not expensive, but it's also not fast. The waiting time is currently 2-4 months for most books, and sometimes a little longer for other artistic projects.
Special note for you techies: If you’re writing code, your software application could make a world of difference, so it’s important to register your original as soon as possible after you publish your work.
Open up your creativity, write that next Billboard Top-40 song, or New York Times bestseller – and get it registered, so you have no worries about someone else cashing in on your success!
ProQuest provides essential research information on copyright and trademark solutions. Here are some key links to get you going: