Why should I register my copyrights?

February 7, 2012

Dear Music Lawyer,

If I own the a copyright in my song just by recording a demo of it, then why should I pay to register my copyrights?


Dear Andrew,

This question comes up frequently. As you correctly noted, copyright registration is not a condition of copyright protection. However, there are a number of benefits to registering your copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office.

1. You Can Sue: Registration is a prerequisite to filing an infringement suit in court for works of U.S. origin. In other words, if you discover that someone is infringing your copyright, you will need a registration certificate to file a copyright infringement lawsuit against the offender.

2. You Might Get Big Money and Cover Your Legal Fees: If registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work OR prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages, and attorneys' fees will be available to the copyright owner. Otherwise, the copyright owner may only obtain an award of actual damages and/or profits of the infringing party.

Statutory damages are provided in Title 17, Section 504 of the U.S. Code and are a big deal in copyright cases because of the sheer amount of damages that may be awarded. Basic damages for copyright infringement are currently between $750 and $30,000 per work, at the discretion of the court; however, plaintiffs who can show willful infringement may be entitled to damages up to $150,000 per work!

If you do not have money on hand to retain a copyright litigation attorney, registration within the time frame above may well determine whether or not you can find an attorney who will take on the case because a copyright litigation attorney may only agree to take on cases for which there is a reasonable expectation of receiving attorneys' fees on the backend.

3. Good Evidence: Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim, and, if made before or within 5 years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright.

4. Protect Against Counterfeit Goods: Registrations may be recorded with the U.S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies. For more information, go to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website and click on "Intellectual Property Rights."

—Amy E. Mitchell

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