With the copyright office
Copyrights are protected by both national and international law.
US copyright law, for example, is set forth in title 17 of the United States Code.
Under 17 US Code § 102, copyright protection subsists in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.
Works of authorship include the following:
musical works, including any accompanying words;
dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
pantomimes and choreographic works;
pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
sound recordings; and
Computer software is considered a “literary” work.
A work is under copyright protection from the moment it’s created and fixed in a tangible form that’s perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. For example, writing something down on paper or saving it on a computer hard drive meets the “fixation” requirement.
A work doesn’t need to be registered with the US copyright office in order to be protected, either in the US or around the world. However, registration does convey advantages, as discussed below.
The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works is an international agreement signed by 195 countries that states that a work protected by copyright in one country is automatically protected in all other signatory countries.
Foreign copyright owners familiar with the Berne Convention may thus feel that there’s no need for them to register their copyrights in the US.
It’s true that foreign copyright holders, unlike US copyright holders, don’t need to register their copyrights with the US copyright office before filing suit for infringement in the US. However, there are still good reasons for foreign copyright holders to register their works in the US.
Only registered copyright holders can obtain statutory damages of up to $150,000 for each registered work that’s willfully infringed. Without registration, foreign copyright holders are limited to actual damages – which may be both hard to prove and much lower than statutory damages.
Registered copyright owners may also be able to recover their attorney’s fees and costs. This can make pursuing a copyright infringement case a far more viable proposition.
Registering a US copyright is a simple and inexpensive process. Given the benefits that registration confers, it’s wise for foreign copyright owners to consider US copyright registration.