This is a short list of questions we're asked all the time. You can find a more complete copyright FAQ at the United States Government Copyright Office website.
How do I get a copyright?
You probably already have one. Copyright protection is automatic. As soon as you create a work and fix it in tangible form, copyright law protects it. You don't need to register your copyright or apply to a government office for approval. At one time, U.S. law required authors to affix a copyright notice to their works, but Congress eliminated that requirement in 1989.
Can I get a copyright at the "CSUSA" office?
No. See United States Government Copyright Office website, "How do a get a copyright?" The CSUSA is not the government copyright office. You may register a copyright at the US Copyright Office in Washington, but registration is completely optional. To find out about copyright registration, visit the U.S. Copyright Office .
Who do I contact to get a copyright?
How much does it cost?
Copyright protection is free. Registering your copyright will cost $45 for each work that you register. To find out about copyright registration, visit the U.S. Copyright Officewebsite.
I sent a letter to myself so I have the copyright, right?
You probably do, but not for the reason you think. See www.copyright.gov, "How do I get a copyright?"
If copyright protection is automatic, why should I bother to register?
Registration is inexpensive and gives you significant benefits. If you think there's a meaningful possibility that you will ever want to sue someone for infringing your copyright, you should definitely register the copyright. First, you must register the copyright before you file a copyright infringement suit. Second, your registration will be evidence in court that your copyright is valid and that you own it. Third, some copyright remedies are only available for works that have been registered promptly. Finally, if your work is registered before someone infringes it, or within three months of publication, you can ask the court to award you court costs and attorneys fees. This last provision may make the difference between being able to afford to sue a copyright infringer and not being able to afford to pay a lawyer to bring the suit. Even if you are sure that you will never sue anyone for copyright infringement, registration makes sense, because it gives people who want to get permission to use your work a way to find out who the copyright owner is.
I have a business and I want to copyright the name. How do I do that?
Names and short phrases are not protected by copyright. The name of your business may be eligible for trademark protection. You can find information about trademark law at the United States Patent and Trademark Office website.
I have an invention and I want to copyright it. How do I do that?
You can't. Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, processes or methods of doing something. It is possible that your invention would qualify for a patent. You can find information about patents at the United States Patent and Trademark Office website.
How do I find out who has the copyright?
Finding out who owns the copyright in a work can be difficult. Because nobody is required to register his or her copyright or to use a copyright notice, it is not always possible to find out who owns the rights in a work. Searching the U.S. Copyright Office records is a good place to start. You can do a free online search of copyright registration records on the U.S. Copyright Office website at www.copyright.gov. If you don't find a copyright registration, you can try to ask the author or the publisher of the copy of the work that you have seen. The U.S. Copyright Office has published a circular on investigating the copyright status of a work. You can read a copy online at http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-fairuse.html#whoowns.
I want to show movies to a group. Do I need to do anything?
If it is a group of your social acquaintances and the showing is in your home, showing the movie is a private performance and you do not need permission. If you want to show the movie in a public place or to a large group of members of the general public, then you may need permission. The copyright law allows some public performances of movies without permission. Teachers may show a movie in the classroom, for example, in the course of face-to-face teaching activity.
How long does a copyright last?
Copyrights in works created since 1978 will last for 70 years after the death of the work's author. If the work is what the copyright law calls a "work made for hire," created by employees within the scope of their employment, the work will last for 95 years from the work's first publication or 120 years from its creation, whichever is shorter. The provisions on copyrights in works created and published before 1978 are complicated, but, as a general rule, the copyright in those works will last 95 years. Anything first published in 1923 or earlier, though, is in the public domain.
What do I do if I think someone is infringing my copyright?
If you think someone is infringing your copyright, you should consult a copyright lawyer. The CSUSA does not give referrals to specific copyright lawyers, but state or local bar associations often do so. Depending on your location, there may be a volunteer or public interest organization in your area that will give copyright advice on specific problems.
Advancing Your Career in Copyright Law