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Learn how to navigate copyright and intellectual property ownership smartly so you own your work, and own your future.


What is a Copyright, When is a Formal Copyright Needed, and How to Get One

Copyright CutOut2Artists are incredibly creative and brilliantly innovative people.

They can pull ideas and forms out of the nether world and translate their insights into the material world with expertise through their respective medium and talent.

Their music fills our concert halls, their visual innovations greet us every day on everything from soup cans to ads on the Internet and authors of every genre help us to learn and grow by sculpting words into a content that informs and inspires.

Why would they need copyright protection?

Why do jewelers lock up their diamonds inside their own shop? Obviously, it is because valuable things get stolen.

A copyright is a sort of “locked jewel case” that federal law provides for authors to protect their “intangible jewels” or their legal rights in the original works of art they create. “

What is a Copyright and Why Does it Matter?

The easiest way to conceptualize the intangible rights and interests granted to an author by a copyright of his work is to imagine a bundle holding an assortment of important legal rights. A copyright grants to the author of an original work the right to control by exclusion, for a limited time, the acts of others in copying, selling, performing, displaying, or making a derivative version of that individual’s work.

Artists need to pay their rent at the end of the month too. These are people that earn their living not just by executing their unique talents and utilizing their creative skills but by intelligently marketing their legal interests in the work produced by those valuable abilities.

How to Officially Register a Copyright

It is important to understand that the official registration of a copyright is not necessary in order to claim and assert copyright protections.

The Copyright Act of 1990 affords the author of an original work immediate copyright protection once the work is created. Registering a copyright is recommended but not mandatory under the Act.

For all works first published after March 1, 1989 the posting somewhere on the work of the copyright symbol as notice to the world of the author’s intent to claim his rights is also recommended but not mandatory to invoke those rights.

The benefits of formally registering a copyright include the creation of a legal presumption of valid copyright ownership in a work and may fulfill prerequisites necessary to the filing of a federal lawsuit for infringement and may afford related recovery of statutory damages and attorney fees.

Formally registering a copyright for an original work involves submitting an application, paying a fee and uploading or sending in by mail a copy of the material for which the copyright is sought.

An examiner at the Copyright Office will then determine whether the materials submitted constitute copyrightable subject matter and whether all the requirements of the law for the grant of a copyright have been met.

The Register of Copyrights will then formally register the copyright claim and issue a certificate of registration to the applicant.

The certificate will contain the information supplied by the applicant, a registration number and an effective date.

If for some reason an application for copyright is refused for registration then that applicant would be sent a letter detailing the reasons for the refusal. Requests for reconsideration of the application are allowed.

Requirements for Obtaining a Formal Copyright

Before you e-file or send in your completed paper application form and related materials and pay the fee to the Copyright Office it is important to make sure that your application fulfills all the requirements to avoid being turned down.

The non-refundable fee for registering a basic online claim for copyright is $35 while making that same basic claim using a paper form will cost $65. Online applications are only accepted for basic registration claims.

All other, non-basic claims, must be submitted using the appropriate paper application form.

The website for the electronic Copyright Office called the “eCO” provides applicants with an opportunity to become a registered user and to register their copyright claim online. Applicants may use that site to either register a claim or to pre-register a claim.

The fee to pre-register a copyright claim is $115. The Office of Copyright does admit that for most works pre-registration is not helpful and that pre-registration does not substitute for regular copyright registration.

Pre-registration may be useful to those working on an unpublished project such as a screen play, a sound recording or a novel that is unfinished and is being prepared for commercial distribution.

The “eCO” will currently only accept “basic registrations” online.

A basic registration is a copyright claim for a single work, a collection of unpublished works by the same author and owned by the same claimant or multiple published works contained in the same publication unit and owned by the same copyright claimant.

All other claims must still be submitted using the correct paper application form for their genre and will be subjected to the higher paper application fee.

The paper forms are available on the Copyright Office website and can be filled in using a computer keyboard or similar device and can be saved for later printing out.

Submitting an online copyright claim is really a pretty simple process.

It just involves completing the online form application, paying the fee and uploading or mailing in the material to be reviewed for copyrighting.

The fee must be paid before the eCO will allow any documents to be uploaded.

Applications to copyright a yet unpublished work and work previously published electronically can also be submitted electronically in the basic registration online application.

Resources for Official Registration

Deciding Whether or Not to Formally Copyright

The formal copyrighting plans of some artists may discouraged by the $35 government filing fee. One could think of the issue as one similar to buying an insurance policy.

Is it better to have the formal copyright protection especially on an unpublished work that is expected to be submitted to multiple agents and publishing companies in an effort to secure status as a published author or would a properly worded non-discloser agreement be cheaper and just as effective?

But what if the publisher or literary agent recently dug out of a list in the Writer’s Market refuses to sign a non-disclosure agreement? Where is the protection for the work then?

Many a creatively-stagnant screen writer or the latest marketing genius who doubles as an “artist agent” in his spare time can review your work; what happens when they tap your work for new ideas?

After all, they’ve contributed the time it took to stamp a signature on a stock rejection letter and buy some forever stamps for mailings at the post office.

All of a sudden that $35 fee melts in magnitude. You’ve labored for years on that novel, that screenplay, that musical and lyrics arrangement, and you know your hard work deserves all the first class treatment and protections you can give it.

How Can Kunvay Help?

Each right granted under a copyright claim is a separate and divisible right which can be transferred, licensed or granted in some way to another person or entity who then becomes the owner of that right or rights.

Kunvay facilitates the transfer of a copyright between the original author of a work and a subsequent buyer of those rights.

Kunvay presumes that the original author has a valid copyright to transfer, formally registered or not, to anyone interested in buying those rights.

Federal law requires that an assignment or transfer of any copyright interest be made in writing in order to be valid. In the absence of the required writing these is a risk that a legally recognizable transfer of copyright ownership rights may not have taken place.

Kunvay streamlines the transfer process by meeting the formal writing requirement for busy web content buyers and content providers and producing a legally binding transfer of rights.

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About the Author: Christine Varad is the principal writer and editor for Varacolors. She earned her JD in law from New England Law and holds a BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. As an artist and a lawyer she has a long standing interest in Intellectual Property law and protecting the rights and interests of the writers and visual and performing artists the law is designed to protect.