The United States Copyright Office has announced fee increases for various filings, including registration of claims and recordation of documents.  Beginning May 1st, 2014, the fee for registration of a standard copyright application filed electronically will increase from $35 to $55.  Paper filed applications also increase by $20, from $65 to $85.  In addition to the changes in fees, a new category is being added for registration of a standard copyright application filed by a single author for a single work (excluding work made for hire).  This category will have a fee of $35 for electronic filing.

U.S. copyrights can be a very important part of your IP portfolio.

U.S. Copyrights last much longer than the 14 year term for U.S. design patents, and even the 20 year term for utility patents.  The copyright in a work authored today can have a term equal to the life of the author plus 70 years.  If a business is the author (e.g., on a work for hire), the term is the shorter of 95 years from first publication, or 120 years from creation.

U.S. Copyright registrations are also relatively easy to procure, and the prices much more affordable than patents.  Even with the recent price increases, Copyright registration costs are the lowest among U.S. intellectual property registration fees.

By statute, U.S. copyrights can be recorded with U.S. Customs to block unauthorized copies from entering the U.S.  That contrasts with patents, which require expensive litigation before the ITC (International Trade Commissions), AND signature on the exclusionary order by the President of the United States, before unauthorized imports can be blocked.

In addition, while works authored in the U.S. have to be registered before suit can be brought, unregistered works authored in most foreign countries (that are part of the UCC or have bilateral agreements with the U.S.) can be enforced in the United States against infringement, even without registration.

U.S. Copyright registration is highly recommended, no matter where the work is authored.  With registration, the plaintiff in an enforcement action can recover statutory damages ($750 to $30,000 per work at the discretion of the court; up to $150,000 per work for willful infringement). Registration is also a prerequisite for recovering attorney fees.  Early registration is recommended, since statutory damages are only available if the infringement takes place after the registration effective date (which is the date the Copyright Office receives the application), OR if the application is filed within three months of publication (in which case the priority dates back to the publication date).  While U.S. copyright registrations are not, strictly speaking, part of enforcing a copyright outside the United States, it can be used as evidence of ownership, e.g., in foreign copyright litigation, and to convince trade show officials to take down infringing displays.

In registered works, there is a presumption of validity, and the information stated in the registration (authorship, claimant, year of creation, and first use (date and place) are presumed to be true (subject to challenge by the defendant(s).  However, a plaintiff enforcing a registered work would have to offer up admissible evidence to prove these elements.  That may be difficult with the passage of time.  Therefore in any business entity that creates copyrightable works, it is imperative that there is a system for documenting the creation and ownership of each work. For example, the file for the each work should contain actual copies or at least reference to the document of transfer (usually the employment agreement) placing the rights in the work under the ownership of the company.

Since the U.S. law makes substantial distinction between a totally original work, and a derivative work (the latter requiring the authorization of the Copyright owner in the underlying work in order for the derivation to be enforceable against 3rd parties), it is also important to document any derivation efforts.  For example, you need to record the underlying work(s) relied on, and to document both the changes made and the authorization obtained (or investigation showing that the underlying work is in the public domain and thus free to be used). Implementing a Copyright records system within the company, either with paper files or computerized records (with date stamping) to document the underlying facts of each copyrighted work, to be followed by timely registration of the works, would go a long way towards protecting the company’s valuable copyrights.

How Can I Help?

If you, or someone you know, need any help with Intellectual Property issues, from filing a patent, trademark or copyright, or just need advice regarding how best to protect your inventions, ideas or your brand, please contact me for a free 30 minute consultation at nvantreeck@usip.com or call TOLL FREE at 1-855-UR IDEAS (1-855-874-3327) and ask for Norman.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

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