A copyright is a bundle of rights that allow you to stop, among other things, the unlawful reproduction of your creative works without your permission. Unlike a trademark, a copyright protects creative works, meaning books, photographs, drawings, paintings, plays, etc. It also protects computer code, some advertising language, and a variety of other not-so-obvious categories. Copyright protection is limited to exact or extremely-close replicas of your work (unlike a trademark, which is a looser “confusingly similar” standard.) It does not protect the “idea” (anyone can use the idea of an underdog boxer fighting his way to the championship) but it does protect your expression of that idea (the script you write for your characters.)
A copyright is created the moment you create the works – the moment you put “pen to paper.” However, enforcing those rights often is difficult (or impossible) without a copyright registration.
For copyright applications, you should file your federal application with the Copyright Office in order to establish your “effective date.” You will need to provide a copy (the deposit) to the Copyright Office electronically or by mail showing the creative work you are registering.
Copyright applications usually take 4-5 months, but can take longer depending on the type of work. Like trademark application, however, the applicant would be protected as of the date you completed your application once the registration issues.
There are benefits to copyright registration, including:
Statutory Damages – If you register the copyrighted work before an infringement takes place, you could be entitled to statutory damages up to $30,000 (for normal infringement) and up to $150,000 for willful infringement. If you don’t register before the infringement occurs, you will only be entitled to actual damages (based on the amount you lost because of the infringement, which is usually not very much).
Attorneys Fees and Costs – If you register the copyrighted work before an infringement takes place, you could be entitled to attorneys fees and costs. If you don’t register before the infringement occurs, you will not be able to seek your attorneys fees as damages
Easier Enforcement – Online retailers require proof that you own a copyright work and will rarely ‘take your word for it.’ A copyright registration is the quickest and easiest way to show proof of ownership.