Why should I register my songs with the Copyright Office?

April 5, 2011

Dear Music Lawyer,

I wrote 10 songs and was thinking about registering them with the Copyright Office, but it seems so expensive. Do I need to worry about filling out the Copyright Office forms?


Dear Phil,

While copyright registration is not a condition of copyright protection, there are certain advantages to registering your copyrights with the Copyright Office:

1. Registration is a prerequisite to filing an infringement suit in court for works of U.S. origin. Therefore, if you discover someone infringing your work and you haven’t already registered your copyright in that work with the Copyright Office, you would have to register and wait for the registration certificate before you could sue the infringers. Even if you register using the online system (currently the cheapest method of copyright registration at $35 per application), it can take months to receive your registration certificate unless you are willing to fork over $760 for expedited processing.

2. If registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work (e.g., 3 months after the date your album is released) or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorneys’ fees will be available to the copyright owner. Otherwise, the copyright owner may only obtain an award of actual damages and/or profits of the infringing party, which are generally difficult to prove. Statutory damages are the "big stick" when it comes to copyright infringement cases because a judgment based on statutory damages can quickly climb into the thousands of dollars.

3. Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim, and, if made before or within 5 years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright. (Prima facie evidence in this instance effectively means that someone else would have to prove that you don’t own the copyright.)

4. Registrations may be recorded with the U.S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies.

As far as the cost of registering with the Copyright Office, keep in mind that you can register a collection of songs on one application under certain circumstances. For example, if you wrote 10 songs by yourself for an upcoming album, you could register all 10 songs on the same application. And if you opt to register the 10 songs on one application using the eCO online registration system, the total application fee for all 10 songs is $35.

—Amy E. Mitchell

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