Does a Copyright Have to be Registered to be Valid?

A person who expresses an original idea has a copyright in the original idea. This gives the person the exclusive right to reproduce, sell, act out, or otherwise copy the expression. Allowing copyrighting encourages people to create and express new and original ideas without concern that someone else will steal away both the credit for the expression and any related profit. Legislators choose to foster the expression of new ideas by providing copyright protection to creators.

Copyrights may be registered, or they may be unregistered. Registration is not a difficult process, and it may have important benefits.

Does a Copyright have to be Registered to be Valid?

A copyright does not need to be registered. However, a copyright owner must register a copyright to sue for copyright infringement.

Registration Eases the Burden of Proving the Copyright is Valid

Registering a copyright may make it easier for you to later prove ownership of the copyright. Proving ownership of the copyright is a necessary part of proving infringement on a copyright.

If a plaintiff in a copyright infringement action submits a certificate of registration of a copyright that person is presumed to be the valid owner of the copyright and the facts contained in the certificate of registration are presumed to be true. The defendant would have the burden of proving the copyright is invalid or a fact contained in the certificate is untrue.

Registration Eases the Burden of Proving the Damage of the Infringement

Additionally, in calculating damages, a plaintiff is always entitled to actual damages in addition to the defendant’s profit from the infringement.

However, if the plaintiff registered the copyrighted work with the Copyright Office prior to the infringement, the plaintiff can chose, if he or she wishes, to elect instead to be awarded damages allowed by statute. The purposes of the statutory damages are to relieve copyright owners from having to prove actual damages and defendant’s profits from infringement, to provide adequate compensation to the copyright owner and remove benefits of infringing, to deter infringement by the infringer and others, and sometimes to punish the infringer.

Play it Safe

If you have a copyright on your creative work, or creative expression of an idea, and no one ever infringes upon your exclusive rights to that work, it will never matter if your copyright was registered or unregistered.

However, few people plan to find themselves needing to file a lawsuit, yet many do. If you have registered your copyright before someone infringes on your exclusive right to the expression of your ideas, it will be not only easier for you to prevail in the lawsuit, but also easier for you to prove the harm you have incurred. Therefore, while registration of copyrights is not required, it is generally a good idea.

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