Copyright protection begins when an original work of authorship is fixed into a tangible form. Although copyright registration is not required for copyright protection, it has certain advantages. It's also a good idea to understand when the registration is effective. The effective date of registration is the date on which the U.S. Copyright Office receives all the required elements in acceptable form, regardless of how long it then takes to process the application and mail the certificate of registration. The time the Copyright Office needs to process an application varies depending on the amount of material involved.
This article discusses the communication you can expect from the Copyright Office when you register a copyright as well as a brief overview of copyrights.
Acknowledgment of Copyright Registration Application
If you submit your copyright registration application through the electronic Copyright Office (eCO), you will receive email confirmations of the steps you complete in the application process. However, if you apply for copyright registration by mailing your application, you will not receive an acknowledgment from the Copyright Office that your application has been received. The reason for this is simple: the Copyright Office simply receives too many applications to send an acknowledgment to each applicant. There are, however, some communications that you can expect to receive, including the following:
Requests to have certificates available for pickup in the Public Information Office, or to have certificates sent by Federal Express or another mail service, cannot be honored. The best way to verify the date that the Copyright Office receives your material -- and thus, the effective date of registration -- is to send your copyright registration application via the U.S. Postal Service's registered or certified mail and request a return receipt.
The copyright laws of the United States apply to various original works of authorship, including movies, television, software, literary works, photographs, live performances, and sound recordings. Although copyright protection is automatically secured when the work is first created, it must be in a tangible form, meaning that it's fixed in a copy (for visual works) or a phonorecord (for sound recordings). Please remember that copyright law covers the manner or form in which ideas have been manifested, not the actual underlying concepts, ideas, facts, or techniques.
Before the U.S. adhered to the Berne Convention (which was effective March 1, 1989), a notice of copyright was required in order to secure copyright protection. Under current copyright laws, there are no formal requirements; however, adhering to some of the formalities -- such as providing a notice of copyright and registering the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office -- has its advantages. For example, these formalities provide official notice to the public that the work is copyrighted. Therefore, someone who infringes on the copyright cannot claim they didn't know it was protected.
Getting Legal Help
If you have questions about your copyright's effective date of registration or would like help determining if your work qualifies for copyright protection, it's best to contact an experienced intellectual property attorney in your area.
If you would like more information or resources related to this topic, and other forms of intellectual property, you can visit the Intellectual Property section on FindLaw.