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17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq (1988 ed. and Supp. 1993)
Why Copyright your Work?
Although the Copyright Act affords you protection just for creating your work and reducing it to a tangible form, in many cases it is desirable to officially register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office. The registration process is fairly straightforward, the fees are not exorbitant, but be forewarned that the certificate of copyright that you will receive from the Copyright Office is not suitable for framing.
Copyright protection attaches immediately and automatically upon fixation (reduction to a tangible form) of the work in question. So, why fork over the bucks and go to the trouble of filing a federal copyright registration? There are two fundamental answers:
- ability to sue; and
- statutory damages.
Although copyright attaches upon fixation, you cannot actually sue someone for infringing your copyright until you have registered your work with the Copyright Office. And if you register your work within three months from the date of first publication, or at least prior to the date of infringement, you can collect statutory damages from the infringer. Otherwise, you are stuck with actual damages, which depending upon the situation, may be only nominal.
To see how all of this plays out, assume that this Web page has not been registered. As we know, this page is in tangible form, and is therefore protected by copyright. If someone from The Plagiarism Website comes and copies this page verbatim and places it on that Website, then my copyright has been infringed. In order to sue The Plagiarism Website for copyright infringement, I would have to register this web page with the copyright office. If I was in a hurry to file the lawsuit, I would have to pay an additional $200 fee to expedite the application.
Assuming that The Plagiarism Website didn't have any valid defense such as fair use, then I would be able to collect my losses, plus any profits that The Plagiarism Website accrued by virtue of the infringement. But in this case, neither The Copyright Website nor The Plagiarism Website are operated for profit. Consequently, I would end up paying attorneys fees for my trouble.
However, if I had registered this page within three months of its first publication, then I would be able to recover statutory damages in lieu of my virtually non-existent actual damages. Statutory damages can be awarded up to $100,000, plus attorney fees and court costs, depending upon the nature and malevolence of the infringement. As you can see, this would certainly affect your decision making process when deciding whether to sue someone for copyright infringement.