How to Apply for a Copyright

Copyright (established under the 1976 Copyright Act) protects the original work of authors. This covers a variety of intellectual property including literary, artistic, musical, dramatic works and others. A copyright protects both published and unpublished works. While all work is automatically protected under copyright law upon being completed in a fixed format, applying for a copyright makes your work a public record, certifies you as the author or creator, and makes you eligible for statutory damages if you ever have to take legal action against someone who uses your work without permission. A copyright is good for the length of the owner's life plus 70 years. You can register your work for a copyright by applying through the U.S. Copyright Office.


  1. Image titled Apply for a Copyright Step 1
    Contact the U.S. Copyright Office.
    • The U.S. Copyright Office's website provides information for applying for a copyright online or via mail.
  2. Image titled Apply for a Copyright Step 2
    Choose the correct application and the method for submitting your materials.
    • You can apply for basic copyright registration of original work using the online application or a hard copy application that you mail to the U.S. Copyright Office. There are separate applications for applying for the copyright of published photographs, pre-registration of unpublished work, and registration of newspapers and newsletters among others.
    • If you choose to apply for your copyright online, in addition to the application, you will need to provide an electronic copy of the work you wish to register. An example of work that can be registered online is a written piece, like a novel or book of poetry, by a single author.
    • If you apply for copyright registration via mail, you must fill out the printed application and provide hard copies of the work you wish to register. Items that should be registered via mail include previously published photographs and work by multiple authors.
    • Copies of your work that you send with your copyright application to be registered as deposits are not returned.
  3. Image titled Apply for a Copyright Step 3
    Pay the fee and submit application materials.
    • The fee for applying for a copyright online or via mail varies. Check the U.S. Copyright Office's website for the current fees.
    • After your application has been processed, the U.S. Copyright Office will send you a certificate that proves your work has been registered and you are the author of the work and the owner of the copyright.


  • You can register a work for a copyright under a pseudonym.
  • Copyright protection arises from the moment of creation, so it is no longer necessary to place a copyright notice on the end product to obtain protection.


  • A copyright does not protect the following: facts, ideas, or titles of work.
  • You can only copyright a work if you own the rights to it.

Things You'll Need

  • Copyright application
  • Copy of your work
  • Application fee

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Categories: Legal Matters