Should You Formally Register Your Work With the U.S. Copyright Office?

Did you know that your work is automatically covered by U.S. copyright law as soon as you set it in a fixed format? According to Title 17 of the U.S. Code, all works are protected under copyright law from the moment they are placed in a fixed, tangible medium and can be perceived either directly via paper, canvas, or other “solid” medium or with the aid of a machine or device such as a computer or e-device.

What does this mean? Well, essentially, you do not have to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to have some measure of protection. The law exists to help protect content creators and to help “promote innovation” in the community.

With that said, you may still want to formally register your work, as there are a number of benefits to this process:

  • It establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
  • If registered within five years of creation, it provides “prima facie” evidence of the validity of the copyright and the facts stated in the certificate.
  • If registered within three months of creation or prior to infringement of the work, it will allow for statutory damages to be awarded to the copyright owner in an infringement suit.
  • It allows an infringement suit to be brought forward.

You might be thinking: “Well, can’t I just mail my manuscript to myself via the U.S. Postal Service and therefore, as a government agency, I’m covered under copyright law?”

Unfortunately, all that this will do is prove the date you mailed it to yourself. There are no legal benefits to sending a manuscript to yourself in the mail, as the U.S. Postal Service is not an entity of the U.S. Copyright Office.

But don’t despair. Not only is the process of registering copyright easy, but it’s relatively inexpensive.

For example, for a simple online registration of a book with one author or artist, the fee is $35 for registering online.

Perhaps the best part? You can do it yourself without paying a lawyer to do it.

Why not protect your intellectual property?

More information on U.S. Copyright law and the U. S. Copyright Office may be found at


Mary Jo (“MJ”) Courchesne is the owner and principal consultant of Gryphon Publishing Consulting. A publishing veteran with more than 20 years of experience in trade, academic, and direct-response publishing, she has spent the last 18 years specializing in licensing, subsidiary rights, and permissions. MJ is a polished presenter on copyright, and she firmly believes that everyone from authors to publishers to corporations should know their rights when it comes to intellectual property. To that end, MJ served as adjunct professor in the George Washington University’s Masters in Publishing program for 11 years, instructing a course titled Editorial Content, Rights, and Permissions. She has also presented sessions on rights at the Independent Book Publishers Association annual conference and is a member of IBPA as well as other publishing organizations such as the American Society of Picture Professionals, the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, and Washington Publishers.