Coalition for Networked Information
Information Policies: A Compilation of Position Statements, Principles,
Statutes, and Other Pertinent Statements
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20559
Source: Copyright Basics, Circular 1, Copyright Office, Library
of Congress, Washington, DC, January 1991
What Copyright Is
Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the
United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of "original works of
authorship" including literary, dramatic, musical,
artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is
available to both published and unpublished works. Section 106 of the
Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive
right to do and to authorize others to do the following:
- To reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
- To prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
- To distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted
work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by
rental, lease, or lending;
- To perform the copyrighted work publicly, in the case of
literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works,
pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works,
- To display the copyrighted work publicly, in the case of
literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works,
pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works,
including the individual images of a motion picture or other
It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by
the Act to the owner of copyright. These rights, however, are not
unlimited in scope. Sections 107 through 119 of the Copyright Act
establish limitations on these rights. In some cases, these limitations
are specified exemptions from copyright liability. One major
limitation is the doctrine of "fair use," which is given a statutory basis
in section 107 of the Act. In other instances, the limitation takes the
form of a "compulsory license" under which certain limited uses of
copyrighted works are permitted upon payment of specified royalties
and compliance with statutory conditions. For further information
about the limitations of any of these rights, consult the Copyright Act
or write to the Copyright Office.
Who Can Claim Copyright
Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created
in fixed form; that is, it is an incident of the process of authorship.
The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property
of the author who created it. Only the author or those deriving their
rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright.
In the case of works made for hire, the employer and not the
employee is presumptively considered the author. Section 101 of the
copyright statute defines a "work made for hire" as:
(1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of
his or her employment; or
(2) a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a
contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or
other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary
work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as
answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly
agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall
be considered a work made for hire . . . .
The authors of a joint work are co-owners of the copyright in the
work, unless there is an agreement to the contrary.
Copyright in each separate contribution to a periodical or other
collective work is distinct from copyright in the collective work as a
whole and vests initially with the author of the contribution.
Two General Principles
- Mere ownership of a book, manuscript, painting, or any
other copy or phonorecord does not give the possessor the
copyright. The law provides that transfer of ownership of any
material object that embodies a protected work does not of itself
convey any rights in the copyright.
- Minors may claim copyright, but state laws may
regulate the business dealings involving copyrights owned by
minors. For information on relevant state laws, consult an
Copyright and National Origin of the Work
Copyright protection is available for all unpublished works,
regardless of the nationality or domicile of the author.
Published works are eligible for copyright protection in the
United States if any one of the following conditions is met:
- On the date of first publication, one or more of the
authors is a national or domiciliary of the United States or is a
national, domiciliary, or sovereign authority of a foreign nation
that is a party to a copyright treaty to which the United States
is also a party, or is a stateless person wherever that person may
be domiciled; or
- The work is first published in the United States or in a
foreign nation that, on the date of first publication, is a party to
the Universal Copyright Convention; or the work comes within
the scope of a Presidential proclamation; or
- The work is first published on or after March 1, 1989, in
a foreign nation that on the date of first publication, is a party to
the Berne Convention; or if the work is not first published in a
country party to the Berne Convention, it is published (on or after
March 1, 1989) within 30 days of first publication in a country
that is party to the Berne Convention; or the work, first
published on or after March 1, 1989, is a pictorial, graphic, or
sculptural work that is incorporated in a permanent structure
located in the United States; or, if the work, first published on or
after March 1, 1989, is a published audiovisual work, all the
authors are legal entries with headquarters in the United
What Works Are Protected
Copyright protects "original works of authorship" that are
fixed in a tangible form of expression. The fixation need not directly
perceptible, so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a
machine or device. Copyrightable works include the following
(1) literary works;
(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;
(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;
(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
(7) sound recordings; and
(8) architectural works.
These categories should be viewed quite broadly; for example,
computer programs and most "compilations" are registrable as "literary
works"; maps and architectural plans are registrable as "pictorial,
graphic, and sculptural works."
What is Not Protected by Copyright
Several categories of material are generally not eligible for
statutory copyright protection. These include among others:
- Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of
expression. For example: choreographic works that have not
been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or
performances that have not been written or recorded.
- Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar
symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic
ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients
- Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts,
principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a
description, explanation, or illustration.
- Works consisting entirely of information that is common
property and containing no original authorship. For example:
standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures
and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or
other common sources.
How to Secure a Copyright
Copyright Secured Automatically Upon Creation
The way in which copyright protection is secured under the
present law is frequently misunderstood. No publication or registration
or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright.
There are, however, certain definite advantages to registration.
Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created,
and a work is "created" when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the
first time. "Copies" are material objects from which a work can be read
or visually perceived either directly or with the aid of a machine or
device, such as books, manuscripts, sheet music, film, videotape, or
microfilm. "Phonorecords" are material objects embodying fixations of
sounds (excluding, by statutory definition, motion picture soundtracks),
such as audio tapes and phonograph disks. Thus, for example, a song
(the "work") can be fixed in sheet music ("copies") or in phonograph
disks ("phonorecords"), or both.
If a work is prepared over a period of time, the part of the work
existing in fixed form on a particular date constitutes the created work
as of that date.
Publication is no longer the key to obtaining statutory copyright
as it was under the Copyright Act of 1909. However, publication
remains important to copyright owners.
The Copyright Act defines publication as follows:
"Publication" is the distribution of copies or phonorecords
of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or
by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or
phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further
distribution, public performance, or public display, constitutes
publication. A public performance or display of a work does not
of itself constitute publication.
A further discussion of the definition of "publication" can be
found in the legislative history of the Act. The legislative reports
define "to the public" as distribution to persons under no explicit or
implicit restrictions with respect to disclosure of the contents. The
reports state that the definition makes it clear that the sale of
phonorecords constitutes publication of the underlying work, for
example, the musical, dramatic, or literary work embodied in a
phonorecord. The reports also state that it is clear that any form of
dissemination in which the material object does not change hands, for
example, performances or displays on television, is not a publication no
matter how many people are exposed to the work. However, when
copies or phonorecords are offered for sale or lease to a group of
wholesalers, broadcasters, or motion picture theaters, publication does
not take place if the purpose is further distribution, public performance,
or public display.
Publication is an important concept in the copyright law for
- When a work is published, it may bear a notice of
copyright to identify the year of publication and the name of the
copyright owner and to inform the public that the work is
protected by copyright. Works published before March 1, 1989,
must bear the notice or risk loss of copyright protection. (See
discussion "notice of copyright" below.)
- Works that are published in the United States are
subject to mandatory deposit with the Library of Congress. (See
discussion below on "mandatory deposit.")
- Publication of a work can affect the limitations on the
exclusive rights of the copyright owner that are set forth in
sections 107 through 119 of the law.
- The year of publication may determine the duration of
copyright protection for anonymous and pseudonymous works
(when the author's identity is not revealed in the records of the
Copyright Office) and for works made for hire.
- Deposit requirements for registration of published works
differ from those for registration of unpublished works. (See
discussion below on "copyright registration" procedures.)
Notice of Copyright
For works first published on and after March 1, 1989, use of the
copyright notice is optional, though highly recommended. Before
March 1, 1989, the use of the notice was mandatory on all published
works, and any work first published before that date must bear a notice
or risk loss of copyright protection.
Use of the notice is recommended because it informs the public
that the work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright
owner, and shows the year of first publication. Furthermore, in the
event that a work is infringed, if the work carries a proper notice, the
court will not allow a defendant to claim "innocent infringement"--that
is, that he or she did not realize that the work is protected. (A
successful innocent infringement claim may result in a reduction in
damages that the copyright owner would otherwise receive.)
The use of the copyright notice is the responsibility of the
copyright owner and does not require advance permission from, or
registration with, the Copyright Office.
Form of Notice for Visually Perceptible Copies
The notice for visually perceptible copies should contain all of
the following three elements:
1. The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word
"Copyright," or the abbreviation "Copr."; and
2. The year of first publication of the work. In the case of
compilations or derivative works incorporating previously
published material, the year date of first publication of the
compilation or derivative work is sufficient. The year date may
be omitted where a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, with
accompanying textual matter, if any, is reproduced in or on
greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, or any
useful article; and
3. The name of the owner of copyright in the work, or an
abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a
generally known alternative designation of the owner.
Example: (c© 1991 John Doe
The "C in a circle" notice is used only on "visually perceptible
copies." Certain kinds of works -- for example, musical, dramatic, and
literary works -- may be fixed not in "copies" but by means of sound in an
audio recording. Since audio recordings such as audio tapes and
phonograph disks are "phonorecords" and not "copies," the "C in a
circle" notice is not used to indicate protection of the underlying
musical, dramatic, or literary work that is recorded.
Form of Notice for Phonorecords of Sound Recordings
The copyright notice for phonorecords of sound recordings has
somewhat different requirements. The notice appearing on
phonorecords should contain the following three elements:
1. The symbol (the letter P in a circle); and
2. The year of first publication of the sound recording; and
3. The name of the owner of copyright in the sound
recording, or an abbreviation by which the name can be
recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the
owner. If the producer of the sound recording is named on the
phonorecord labels or containers, and if no other name appears in
conjunction with the notice, the producer's name shall be
considered a part of the notice.
Example: (the letter P in a circle) 1991 A.B.C., Inc.
NOTE: Since questions may arise from the use of variant forms of
the notice, any form of the notice other than those given here
should not be used without first seeking legal advice.
Position of Notice
The notice should be affixed to copies or phonorecords of the
work in such an manner and location as to "give reasonable notice on the
claim of copyright." The notice on phonorecords may appear on the
surface of the phonorecord or on the phonorecord label or container,
provided the manner of placement and location give reasonable notice
of the claim. The three elements of the notice should ordinarily
appear together on the copies or phonorecords. The Copyright Office
has issued regulations concerning the form and position of the copyright
notice in the Code of Federal Regulations (37 C.F.R. Part 201). For more
information, request Circular 3.
Publications Incorporating United States Government Works
Works by the United States Government are not eligible for
copyright protection. For works published on and after March 1, 1989,
the previous notice requirement for works consisting primarily of one or
more U.S. Government works has been eliminated. However, use of the
copyright notice for these works is still strongly recommended. Use of a
notice on such a work will defeat a claim of innocent infringement as
previously described provided the notice also includes a statement that
identifies one of the following: those portions of the work in which
copyright is claimed or those portions that constitute U.S. Government
material. An example is:
Copr. 1991 Jane Brown. Copyright claimed in Chapters 7-10, exclusive of
U.S. Government maps.
Works published before March 1, 1989, that consist primarily of
one or more works of the U.S. Government must bear a notice and the
To avoid an inadvertent publication without notice, the author
or other owner of copyright may wish to place a copyright notice on any
copies or phonorecords that leave his or her control.
Effect of Omission of the Notice or of Error in the Name or Date
The Copyright Act, in sections 405 and 406, provides procedures
for correcting errors and omissions of the copyright notice on works
published on or after January 1, 1978 and before March 1, 1989.
In general, if a notice was omitted or an error was made on copies
distributed between January 1, 1978, and March 1, 1989, the copyright
was not automatically lost. Copyright protection may be maintained if
registration for the work has been made before or is made within 5
years after the publication without notice, and a reasonable effort is
made to add the notice to all copies or phonorecords that are
distributed to the public in the United States after the omission has
been discovered. For more information request Circular 3.
How Long Copyright Protection Endures Works Originally
Copyrighted on or After January 1, 1978
A work that is created (fixed in tangible form for the first time)
on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment
of its creation, and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author's
life, plus an additional 50 years after the author's death. In the case of
"a joint work prepared by two or more authors who did not work for
hire," the term lasts for 50 years after the last surviving author's
death. For works made for hire, and for anonymous and pseudonymous
works (unless the author's identity is revealed in Copyright Office
records), the duration of copyright will be 75 years from publication or
100 years from creation, whichever is shorter.
Works that were created but not published or registered for
copyright before January 1, 1978, have been automatically brought
under the statute and are now given Federal copyright protection. The
duration of copyright in these works will generally be computed in the
same way as for works created on or after January 1, 1978: the life-plus-
50 or 75/100-year terms will apply to them as well. The law provides
that in no case will the term of copyright for works in this category
expire before December 31, 2002, and for works published on or before
December 31, 2002, the term of copyright will not expire before
December 31, 2027.
Works Copyrighted Before January 1, 1978
Under the law in effect before 1978, copyright was secured either
on the date a work was published, or on the date of registration if the
work was registered in unpublished form. In either case, the copyright
endured for a first term of 28 years from the date it was secured. During
the last (28th) year of the first term, the copyright was eligible for
renewal. The current copyright law has extended the renewal term
from 28 to 47 years for copyrights that were subsisting on January 1,
1978, making these works eligible for a total term of protection of 75
years. However, the copyright must be timely renewed to receive the
47-year period of added protection. This is accomplished by filing a
properly completed form RE accompanied by a $12 filing fee in the
Copyright Office before the end of the 28th calendar year of the
For more detailed information on the copyright term, write to
the Copyright Office and request Circulars 15a and 15t. For
information on how to search the Copyright Office records concerning
the copyright status of a work, ask for Circular 22.
Transfer of Copyright
Any or all of the exclusive rights, or any subdivision of those
rights, of the copyright owner may be transferred, but the transfer of
exclusive rights is not valid unless that transfer is in writing and signed
by the owner of the rights conveyed (or such owner's duly authorized
agent). Transfer of a right on a nonexclusive basis does not require a
A copyright may also be convened by operation of law and may
be bequeathed by will or pass as personal property by the applicable
laws of intestate succession.
Copyright is a personal property right, and it is subject to the
various state laws and regulations that govern the ownership,
inheritance, or transfer of personal property as well as terms of
contracts or conduct of business. For information about relevant state
laws, consult an attorney.
Transfers of copyright are normally made by contract. The
Copyright Office does not have or supply any forms for such transfers.
However, the law does provide for the recordation in the Copyright
Office of transfers of copyright ownership. Although recordation is not
required to make a valid transfer between the parties, it does provide
certain legal advantages and may be required to validate the transfer
as against third parties. For information on recordation of transfers and
other documents related to copyright, request Circular 12.
Termination of Transfers
Under the previous law, the copyright in a work generally
reverted to the author, if living, or if the author was not living, to
other specified beneficiaries, provided a renewal claim was registered
in the 28th year of the original term. The present law drops the
renewal feature except for works already in the first term of statutory
protection when the present law took effect. Instead, the present law
generally permits termination of a grant of rights after 35 years under
certain conditions by serving written notice on the transferee within
specified time limits.
For works already under statutory copyright protection before
1978, the present law provides a similar right of termination covering
the newly added years that extended the former maximum term of the
copyright from 56 to 75 years. For further information, request Circulars
15a and 15t.
International Copyright Protection
There is no such thing as an "international copyright" that will
automatically protect an author's writings throughout the entire
world. Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country
depends, basically, on the national laws of that country. However,
most countries do offer protection to foreign works under certain
conditions, and these conditions have been greatly simplified by
international copyright treaties and conventions. For a list of countries
which maintain copyright relations with the United States, request
The United States belongs to both global, multilateral copyright
treaties--the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC) and the Berne
Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. The
United States was a founding member of the UCC, which came into
force on September 16, 1955. Generally, a work by a national or
domiciliary of a country that is a member of the UCC or a work first
published in a UCC country may claim protection under the UCC. If the
work bears the notice of copyright in the form and position specified by
the UCC, this notice will satisfy and substitute for any other
formalities a UCC member country would otherwise impose as a
condition of copyright. A UCC notice should consist of the symbol "C in
a circle" accompanied by the name of the copyright proprietor and the
year of first publication of the work.
By joining the Berne Convention on March 1, 1989, the United
States gained protection for its authors in all member nations of the
Berne Union with which the United States formerly had either no
copyright relations or had bilateral treaty arrangements. Members of
the Berne Union agree to a certain minimum level of copyright
protection and agree to treat nationals of other member countries like
their own nationals for purposes of copyright. A work first published in
the United Sates or another Berne Union country (or first published in a
non-Berne country, followed by publication within 30 days in a Berne
Union country) is eligible for protection in all Berne member countries.
There are no special requirements. For information on the legislation
implementing the Berne Convention, request Circular 93 from the
An author who wishes protection for his or her work in a
particular country should first find out the extent of protection of
foreign works in that country. If possible, this should be done before the
work is published anywhere, since protection may often depend on the
facts existing at the time of first publication.
If the country in which protection is sought is a party to one of
the international copyright conventions, the work may generally be
protected by complying with the conditions of the convention. Even if
the work cannot be brought under an international convention,
protection under the specific provisions of the country's national laws
may still be possible. Some countries, however, offer little or no
copyright protection for foreign works.
In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended
to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright.
However, except in two specific situations, registration is not a
condition of copyright protection. Even though registration is not
generally a requirement for protection, the copyright law provides
several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners to
make registration. Among these advantages are the following:
- Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim;
- Before an infringement suit may be filed in court,
registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin and for foreign
works not originating in a Berne Union country. (For more
information on when a work is of U.S. origin, request Circular 93);
- If made before or within 5 years of publication,
registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the
validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the
- If registration is made within 3 months after publication
of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory
damages and attorney's fees will be available to the copyright
owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual
damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.
Registration may be made at any time within the life of the
copyright. Unlike the law before 1978, when a work has been registered
in unpublished form, it is not necessary to make another registration
when the work becomes published (although the copyright owner may
register the published edition, if desired).
A. To register a work, send the following three elements
in the same envelope of package to the Register of Copyrights,
Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559:
(see section What Happens If the Three Elements Are Not
1. A properly completed application form;
2. A nonrefundable filing fee of $20 for each application;
3. A nonreturnable deposit of the work being
registered. The deposit requirements vary in particular
situations. The general requirements follow. Also note
the information under "Special Deposit Requirements"
immediately following this section.
- If the work is unpublished, one complete copy or phonorecord.
- If the work was first published in the
United States on or after January 1, 1978, two
complete copies or phonorecords of the best edition.
- If the work was first published in the
United States before January 1, 1978, two complete
copies or phonorecords of the work as first
- If the work was first published outside the
United States, whenever published, one complete
copy or phonorecord of the work as first published.
B. To register a renewal, send:
1. A properly completed RE application form; and
2. A nonrefundable filing fee of $12 for each work.
NOTE: Complete the Application Form Using Black Ink Pen or
Typewriter. You may photocopy the application forms if the
forms you submit to the Office are clear, legible, on a good grade
of white paper, and printed head-to-head (so that when you
turn the sheet over, the top of page 2 is directly behind the top of
page 1). Because the certificates of registration are reproduced
directly from the application forms, it is vital the forms meet
the stated requirements. Forms not meeting these requirements
will be returned.
Special Deposit Requirements
Special deposit requirements exist for many types of work. In
some instances, only one copy is required for published works, in other
instances only identifying material is required, and in still other
instances, the deposit requirement may be unique. The following are
three prominent examples of exceptions to the general deposit
- If the work is a motion picture, the deposit requirement
is one complete copy of the unpublished or published motion
picture and a separate written description of its contents, such as
a continuity, press book, or synopsis.
- If the work is a literary, dramatic or musical work
published only on phonorecord, the deposit requirement is one
complete copy of the phonorecord.
- If the work is an unpublished or published computer
program, the deposit requirement is one visually perceptible
copy in source code of the first and last 25 pages of the program.
For a program of less than 50 pages, the deposit is a copy of the
entire program. (For more information on computer program
registration, including deposits for revised programs and special
relief for trade secrets, request Circular 61.)
In the case of works reproduced in three-dimensional copies,
identifying material such as photographs or drawings is ordinarily
required. Other examples of special deposit requirements (but by no
means an exhaustive list) include many works of the visual arts, such as
greeting cards, toys, fabric, oversized material (request Circular 40a);
video games and other machine-readable audiovisual works (request
Circular 61 and ML-387); automated databases (request Circular 65);
and contributions to collective works.
If you are unsure of the deposit requirement for your work, write
or call the Copyright Office and describe the work you wish to register.
A work may be registered in unpublished form as a "collection,"
with one application and one fee, under the following conditions:
- The elements of the collection are assembled in an
- The combined elements bear a single title identifying
the collection as a whole;
- The copyright claimant in all the elements and in the
collection as a whole is the same; and
- All of the elements are by the same author, or, if they
are by different authors, at least one of the authors has
contributed copyrightable authorship to each element.
An unpublished collection is indexed in the Catalog of Copyright
Entries only under the collection title.
Corrections and Amplifications of Existing Registrations
To correct an error in a copyright registration or to amplify the
information given in a registration, file a supplementary registration
form--Form CA--with the Copyright Office. The information in a
supplementary registration augments but does not supersede that
contained in the earlier registration. Note also that a supplementary
registration is not a substitute for an original registration, for renewal
registration, or for recording a transfer of ownership. For further
information about supplementary registration, request Circular 8.
Mandatory Deposit for Works Published in the United States
Although a copyright registration is not required, the Copyright
Act establishes a mandatory deposit requirement for works published
in the United States (see definition of "publication" on page 4 of
Circular 1). In general, the owner of copyright, or the owner of the
exclusive right of publication in the work, has a legal obligation to
deposit in the Copyright Office, within 3 months of publication in the
United States, 2 copies (or, in the case of sound recordings, 2
phonorecords) for the use of the Library of Congress. Failure to make
the deposit can result in fines and other penalties, but does not affect
Certain categories of works are exempt entirely from the
mandatory deposit requirements, and the obligation is reduced for
certain other categories. For further information about mandatory
deposit, request Circular 7d.
NOTE: Library of Congress Catalog Card Numbers. A Library of
Congress Catalog Card Number is different from a copyright
registration number. The Cataloging in Publication (CIP) Division of
the Library of Congress is responsible for assigning LC Catalog Card
Numbers and is operationally separate from the Copyright Office. A
book may be registered in or deposited with the Copyright Office but
not necessarily cataloged and added to the Library's collections. For
information about obtaining an LC Catalog Card Number, contact the
CIP Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540. For
information on International Standard Book Numbering (ISBN), write
to: ISBN Agency, R.R. Bowker Company, 245 West 17th Street, New
York, N.Y. 10011. For information on International Standard Serial
Numbering (ISSN), write to: Library of Congress, National Serials
Data Program, Washington, D.C. 20540.
Use of Mandatory Deposit to Satisfy Registration Requirements
For works published in the United States the Copyright Act
contains a provision under which a single deposit can be made to satisfy
both the deposit requirements for the Library and the registration
requirements. In order to have this dual effect, the copies or
phonorecords must be accompanied by the prescribed application and
Who May File an Application Form
The following persons are legally entitled to submit an
- The author. This is either the person who actually
created the work, or, if the work was made for hire, the
employer or other person for whom the work was prepared.
- The copyright claimant. The copyright claimant is
defined in Copyright Office regulations as either the author of
the work or a person or organization that has obtained
ownership of all the rights under the copyright initially
belonging to the author. This category includes a person or
organization who has obtained by contract the right to claim
legal title to the copyright in an application for copyright
- The owner of exclusive right(s). Under the law, any of
the exclusive rights that go to make up a copyright and any
subdivision of them can be transferred and owned separately,
even though the transfer may be limited in time or place of
effect. The term "copyright owner" with respect to any one of
the exclusive rights contained in a copyright refers to the owner
of that particular right. Any owner of an exclusive right may
apply for registration of a claim in the work.
- The duly authorized agent of such author, other
copyright claimant, or owner of exclusive right(s). Any person
authorized to act on behalf of the author, other copyright
claimant, or owner of exclusive rights may apply for
There is no requirement that applications be prepared or filed by an
For Original Registration
Form TX: for published and unpublished nondramatic literary works
Form SE: for serials, works issued or intended to be issued in
successive parts bearing numerical or chronological
designations and intended to be continued indefinitely
(periodicals, newspapers, magazines, newsletters,
annuals, journals, etc.)
Short Form/SE and Form SE/GROUP: specialized SE forms for use
when certain requirements are met
Form PA: for published and unpublished works of the performing
arts (musical and dramatic works, pantomimes and
choreographic works, motion pictures and other
Form VA: for published and unpublished works of the visual arts
(pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works including
Form SR: for published and unpublished sound recordings
For Renewal Registration
Form RE: for claims to renewal copyright in works copyrighted
under the law in effect through December 31, 1977 (1909
For Corrections and Amplifications
FORM CA: for supplementary registration to correct or amplify
information given in the Copyright Office record of an
For a Group of Contributions to Periodicals
Form GR/CP: an adjunct application to be used for registration of a
group of contributions to periodicals in addition to an application
Form TX, PA, or VA
Free application forms are supplied by the Copyright Office.
Copyright Office Hotline
NOTE: Requestors may order application forms and circulars at any
time by telephoning 202-707-9100. Orders will be recorded
automatically and filled as quickly as possible.
All applications and materials related to copyright registration
should be addressed to the Register of Copyrights, Copyright Office,
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559.
The application, nonreturnable deposit (copies, phonorecords, or
identifying material), and nonrefundable filing fee should be mailed in
the same package.
What Happens If the Three Elements Are Not Received Together
Applications and fees received without appropriate copies,
phonorecords, or identifying material will not be processed and will
ordinarily be returned. Unpublished deposits without applications or
fees will ordinarily be returned, also. In most cases, published deposits
received without applications and fees can be immediately transferred
to the collections of the Library of Congress. This practice is in
accordance with section 408 of the law which provides that the
published deposit required for the collections of the Library of Congress
may be used for registration only if the deposit is "accompanied by the
prescribed application and fee...."
After the deposit is received and transferred to another
department of the Library for its collections or other disposition, it is no
longer available to the Copyright Office. If you wish to register the
work, you must deposit additional copies or phonorecords with your
application and fee.
Do not send cash. A fee sent to the Copyright Office should be in
the form of a money order, check, or bank draft payable to the Register
of Copyrights; it should be securely attached to the application. A
remittance from outside the United States should be payable in U.S.
dollars and should be in the form of an international money order or a
draft drawn on a U.S. bank. Do not send a check drawn on a foreign
Effective Date of Registration
A copyright registration is effective on the date of receipt in the
Copyright Office receives all of the required elements in acceptable
form, regardless of how long it then takes to process the application
and mail the certificate of registration. The time the Copyright Office
requires to process an application varies, depending on the amount of
material the Office is receiving and the personnel available. It must
also be kept in mind that it may take a number of days for mailed
material to reach the Copyright Office and for the certificate of
registration to reach the recipient after being mailed by the Copyright
If you are filing an application for copyright registration in the
Copyright Office, you will not receive an acknowledgement that your
application has been received, but you can expect:
- A letter or telephone call from a copyright examiner if
further information is needed;
- A certificate of registration to indicate the work has
been registered, or
- If the application cannot be made, a letter explaining
why it has been refused.
Please allow 120 days to receive a letter or certificate of registration.
If you want to know when the Copyright Office receives your
material, you should send it by registered or certified mail and request
a return receipt from the post office. Allow at least 3 weeks for the
return of your receipt.
Search of Copyright Office Records
The records of the Copyright Office are open for inspection and
searching by the public. Moreover, on request, the Copyright Office
will search its records at the statutory rate of $20 for each hour or
fraction of an hour. For information on searching the Office records
concerning the copyright status or ownership of a work, request
Circulars 22 and 23.
This circular attempts to answer some of the questions that are
frequently asked about copyright. For a list of other material
published by the Copyright Office, request Circular 2, "Publications on
Copyright." Any requests for Copyright Office publications or special
questions relating to copyright problems not mentioned in this circular
should be addressed to the Copyright Office, LM 455, Library of
Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559. To speak to a Copyright
Information Specialist, call 202-479-0700.
The Copyright Office is not permitted to give legal advice. If
you need information or guidance on matters such as disputes over the
ownership of a copyright, suits against possible infringers, the
procedure for getting a work published, or the method of obtaining
royalty payments, it may be necessary to consult an attorney.