How to Obtain a Federal Copyright Registration - Purple Fox Legal

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How to Obtain a Federal Copyright Registration

By Purple Fox Legal

January 26, 2022

It’s true; you own the copyright to a work the moment it’s created. However, claiming and securing this protection isn’t done automatically. In fact, there are a few key events that must take place to ensure that infringement does not occur. In this article, we cover federal copyright laws and the steps you must take to enforce them. 

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a type of intellectual property law that protects the original works of an author that have a minimal degree of creativity. Copyright protection exists over anything you create, including paintings, photographs, poetry, and music. It’s important to note that copyright protects expression, not ideas, inventions, or procedures. 

Some examples of material that generally cannot be copyrighted include: 

  • Titles
  • Names
  • Slogans
  • Short phrases

Copyright protection is important because it allows you to reproduce the work, display the work, perform the work publicly, and sell copies of your work, but it prevents others from doing the same. And, while you are not required to formally register a copyright to receive protection, it’s important to do so if you ever intend to sue someone over copyright infringement. 

How to Register a Copyright

There are two ways to register a copyright, online or by mail. Start by filling out an application, which can be done online or printed and then mailed. A fee must also be submitted with your application. Paper applications must be mailed with a check or money order, and online applications can be paid through the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) Submission System. 

Once you’ve applied for copyright registration, it’s time to submit or deposit a copy of your work. If you’re submitting a digital application, you will be prompted to upload a copy of your work directly into the system. However, you can only submit a work online if it meets one of the following criteria:

  1. The work is unpublished
  2. The work is only published electronically
  3. The work was published, but identifying material is permitted or required
  4. The musical work was published solely in audio format
  5. The work is architectural

The U.S. Copyright Office strongly encourages works like sound recordings, motion pictures, and literary works to be submitted online. 

For most hard-copy submissions, a “best edition” version of your work should be mailed along with a shipping slip. The responsibility falls on the copyright owner to choose the “best edition” of their work at the time of registration. Remember, you will not get your copies back once they’ve been sent in. 

When your online application has been finished and submitted, you will receive a confirmation email indicating its arrival at the U.S. Copyright Office. Mail-in submissions will not receive a confirmation of any type. For this reason, you are encouraged to send physical submissions via certified mail. The average time frame for registration processing is approximately three to seven months. Though rare, mail-in submissions that require additional attention could remain in processing for upwards of twelve months. 


As mentioned above, fees are included in the copyright registration process. The total fee that you pay depends on the way that you file and the type of work you submit. A single author filing for electronic copyright registration on one piece of work can expect to pay about $45. All other electronic filings are approximately $65. Paper form registrations have fees that are a little higher, at about $125. The U.S. Copyright Office also charges certain fees when you request copies and certificates from their database. 

Final Thoughts

The effective date of your copyright registration begins the date the U.S. Copyright Office receives your completed application, payment, and a copy of your work. If the work was created on or after January 1, 1978, your registration will last for the entirety of your life, plus seventy years. To double-check your application, and ensure that everything is done right, consider hiring an experienced attorney to guide you through the process.