Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Copyright Registration for Literary Works

You've written what you hope is the next award-winning collection of poems. Whether you are choosing to self-publish or use a more traditional method, the next important question is: Do you need a copyright for your literary work? The answer is: Most likely.

Copyrights protect many types of original works of authorship. These types of works include:

  • Literary works
  • Dramatic works
  • Musical works
  • Motion pictures
  • Performing arts
  • Visual arts
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works

The Copyright Act governs copyright law. The Copyright Act outlines the protections granted to copyright owners. It also establishes the requirement for copyright registration. In the United States, the U.S. Copyright Office handles copyright registration. The Copyright Office is part of the Library of Congress.

Registering your copyright helps establish your rights and control over derivative works based on your original literary or artistic work. Derivative works are new works derived from pre-existing copyrighted works. This article explains what works can receive copyright registration and how to achieve that protection.

Literary Works Defined

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, a literary work can be just about anything produced in written format. Having a copyright affords you essential legal protections. Copyright registration for literary works allows authors to officially establish their ownership and claim on their original creative works.

Three Steps to Register Your Copyright

Once you register your copyright, the information about the work becomes a part of the public record. If you have a literary work and want to gain copyright protection, follow these steps to register your work. Your book, manuscript, online work, poetry, or other text likely needs protection through the U.S. Copyright Office. For more detailed information, see FindLaw's Intellectual Property section.

Step 1

Make sure your work is a literary work. Literary works include:

  • Plays
  • Novels
  • Poems
  • Articles
  • Song lyrics
  • Computer programs
  • Serials (books, journals, or magazines published as a series)
  • Periodicals (magazines and journals)
  • Essays

To register serials and periodicals, see the Serial Works section. Copyright protection requires that the literary work be fixed in a tangible form. This often means written down or saved on a laptop.

Step 2

Obtain the necessary forms from the Copyright Office. These forms are on the U.S. Copyright Office's official website, copyright.gov.

Gather the following information to prepare for the registration process.

1. A fee payable to the "Register of Copyrights." Depending on the application and type of tangible medium, registration fees range from $45 - $500, though most tend to cost approximately $125.20. Nonreturnable copy of the work offered for registration. For example:

  • Unpublished works: One complete copy
  • Published works: One complete copy; this was recently changed from two complete copies. If the U.S. Copyright Office needs another copy, they will alert you. The U.S. Copyright Office must have a copy within three months of publication. There are some exceptions to physical copies
  • Single issue serial: One copy electronically uploaded
  • Group serials: One copy electronically uploaded of each issue
  • Photographs: One electronic copy of the photo uploaded; this satisfies the requirement even if the photo was in a magazine, book, or poster
  • Music: One uploaded digital audio file with some exceptions
  • Works only produced online or electronically: Can submit an electronic file
  • Works first published outside the U.S.: One complete copy of the first foreign edition
  • Contribution to a collective work: One complete copy of the best edition of the collective work or a copy of the contribution itself as published in the collective work

2. Ensure you are filing the correct type of application form. See if you need a standard application or a single application.

Step 3

Other Filing Options

Most copyright offices offer online registration. In the United States, copyright registration is done at the Electronic Copyright Office (ECO). Save yourself the hassle, time, and postage. File your copyright application online. It's easier than having to trek down to the post office, and you'll likely get a quicker decision from the government.

However, if you prefer to send your application in the mail, send the package to: Library of Congress Copyright Office, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E. Washington, D.C. 20559-6000.

Your registration becomes effective when the U.S. Copyright Office receives your application, payment, and copies in acceptable form. You will receive a registration certificate in four to five months if your submission is in order. For more details about copyright, please see the U.S. Copyright Office's information circulars.

FAQ About Additional Copyright Registration Information

The following are frequently asked questions about copyright registration.

What should I do if I want to register multiple works?

Group registration allows you to register multiple works as a series or collection. Group registration also reduces the cost if you have multiple works. An example is a series of short stories, poems, or articles that you want to register at once. Group registration is useful for you.

Is copyright registration the same for short online literary works?

Short online literary works include blog posts, articles, or other short-written pieces published online. Short online literary works follow the same general copyright registration process.

What is copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement occurs when someone reproduces, distributes, modifies, or uses copyrighted work without the copyright owner's permission. Having copyright registration strengthens your ability for infringement copyright claims. This allows you to take legal action. In the case of copyright infringement, you may seek statutory damages and attorney fees if you have a registered copyright.

Have a Legal Professional Assist You With the Copyright Application Process

If you are a small business owner looking to copyright your literary work, you should speak to an intellectual property attorney to begin your copyright registration process.

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified business attorney to help you identify how to best protect your business' intellectual property.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Kick-Start Your LLC in Minutes!

LegalZoom can help you form an LLC on your own or with advice every step of the way.

  • Starts at $0 + state fees
  • Protect your personal assets
  • Launch with the #1 online business formation service

Select and start my LLC

 

Prefer to work with a lawyer? 

Find one right now.

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options