As soon as a work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression, it is protected by US copyright law. Whether you self-publish a novel on Amazon or a major movie studio puts out a new blockbuster release, both are protected by copyright law. A work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression when “its embodiment in a copy or phonerecord, by or under the authority of the author, is sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration,” (17 U.S.C §101). This means that even publishing a video on YouTube or TikTok would count, because it would be fixed in a stable way with the input of the author of the video. But if a work is already protected by copyright when it’s published, what is copyright registration and why is it important? Registering a copyright confers additional rights to the copyright holder. A copyright registration attorney can help you decide if registering your copyright is worthwhile for you.
Why Register a Copyright?
There are a few reasons why you might want to register a copyright. For one, if you register a copyright, you will receive official documentation that you are the owner. However, the biggest reason to register a copyright is because you need to have your work registered in order to sue an infringer. Let’s say you haven’t registered your copyright, and you find someone on YouTube infringing it. You can use YouTube’s built-in tools and you can send a harshly worded cease and desist, but you cannot sue them in a court of law for damages. In a copyright infringement case, you can sue for actual damages and the profits of the infringer, or for statutory damages. Let’s say that you made a YouTube video and another channel uploaded it without permission. Actual damages would be the amount of money you lost out on because people viewed the other video instead of yours. If you lost out on 100,000 views, and you had a sponsorship deal where you received $1,000.00 for every view, you could argue that you lost out on that $1,000.00 because of their infringement. Profit refers to the profit that the infringer makes because of their infringement. If that YouTube channel had ads running on the video, and they made $1,000.00 off the views of that video, you can sue be given the profits that that person received. Statutory damages are damages that are created by statute. You cannot ask for both statutory and actual damages. Statutory damages are at the discretion of the court to determine. For cases of innocent or unwilful infringement, the damages awarded can be between $750.00 to $30,000.00, while willful infringement can be up to $150,000.00. These damages are for each instance. So if this channel took a dozen videos of yours, and the court decides that the statutory damages should be $1,000.00, you can be awarded $12,000.00 for all the instances of copyright violation. In can be a balancing act deciding whether to go with actual or statutory damages. In some cases, actual damages could be more than the statutory damages, but the evidence might not be strong enough to support them. In any case, before you can even begin to think about these issues, it’s necessary to register your copyright in advance, which is something a copyright litigation attorney can help you with.
In order to receive the full protection of copyright laws, it is important to register your copyright. You can recover potential damages from any infringement so long as you register your work with the United States Copyright Office.