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Countries that have enacted copyright protection laws charge copyright fees to register and record certain types of unique or creative works with a governmental agency. Registering a work is the process of establishing ownership and making the material a matter of public record. These works include books, movies, CDs, software programs, art, and other types of unique intellectual property. In the U.S., the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress is responsible for maintaining a copyright registry. Owners or creators of a work may submit an registration application to this office.
A copyright arises automatically at the time a person creates an original work. It is not necessary to pay copyright fees to receive a copyright. Paying copyright fees to register a work, however, provides significant legal benefits to the holders of a copyright. These benefits are powerful incentives to register the work.
For instance, a person generally cannot file a lawsuit for copyright infringement unless he has submitted the work along with the copyright fee to to the appropriate government agency. Second, if successful in a copyright infringement suit, the copyright holder often has the right to recover statutory damages and attorney’s fees. In infringement cases, statutory damages are money damages that a judge has discretion to award for intentional copyright infringement.
Paying copyright fees to register a work also discourages copyright infringement. Potential infringers are less likely to steal someone’s intellectual property if they believe that the copyright holder will take legal action to protect the work. In other words, a person that has taken the time to register a work is more likely to go to court to protect his or her rights. Further, persons who have registered their work are easier to contact which allows others to pay for the right to use a particular work.
Copyright fees vary based on several factors. These include the type of work registered, whether the work is registered online versus traditional mail, whether special handling is required, or whether the applicant is requesting expedited service. The U.S. Copyright Office, for example, provides a schedule that lists the various copyright fees that it charges for registration.
The U.S. Copyright Office sends a Certificate of Registration to the person that has paid the copyright fees to register a work. The certificate will have a serial number to identify the work. The Copyright Office may refuse to register a work if an application is not completed properly or if the work is not entitled to registration. A person can file an appeal if the Copyright Office refuses to register a work.
I'm a freelance writer, and I also do some creative writing of my own. I have never bothered going through copyright registration myself, but I understand the copyright fees will cover everything included in the submitted batch of works. In other words, it wouldn't be worth it for me to send each novel I finish to the copyright office once it is printed, but I could decide to submit 10 novels for the same fee.
Most of the time, I just put the statement "Copyright 2010 by (pen name). All rights reserved" at the end of all my manuscripts. That way I have asserted my rights as the creator, even if I haven't officially registered my work at a copyright office.
I think some beginning songwriters and authors can get too far ahead of themselves when it comes to paying for copyright registration. I've seen some of my musician friends get a batch of songs together and send them off to the copyright office in Washington, DC, along with the requires copyright fees. In my opinion, most of those songs were not commercial enough for anyone to copy. I see it as a waste of money until the creators start experiencing some real success in their field.
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