Registering your copyright is an important part of enforcing your intellectual property rights. Copyright registration gives you several benefits under copyright law:
- Ability to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement.
- Ability to collect automatic or statutory damages against infringers, up to $150,000.
- Clarifying the value of your intellectual property assets.
- Deterrence to potential infringers
Filing a Lawsuit for Copyright Infringement
With very rare exceptions, you may not properly file a lawsuit for copyright infringement until you have filed an application. Additionally, the Copyright Office must have examined and granted your application.
Normal processing times for copyright applications range from 4 to 6 months. Failing to timely file a copyright registration can substantially delay your ability to assert your copyright claims in court.
If you need to quickly file a lawsuit to enforce a copyright, however, you are not entirely out of luck. If litigation is imminent, a copyright holder can request "special handling" for their application. This allows the holder to obtain an expedited examination of their copyright application in 5 to 10 days.
Special handling is significantly more expensive than a standard copyright application. The standard processing fee is 35 dollars, while special handling is 800 dollars.
Collecting Statutory Damages for Copyright Infringement
Additionally, there are time limits to when you can collect statutory damages. If your application for copyright registration was filed prior to infringement, you cannot collect even if you win in court. The same is true if you file within three months of the publication of your work. There are only limited exceptions to this rule.
Statutory damages dramatically increase the amount of money you can recover in a lawsuit. These are alternatives to actual damages, which are often difficult to prove in court. If a work is registered, you can recover between $750 to $30,000 per work infringed. If the infringement is proven to be willful, that amount can be up to $150,000 per work.
Significantly, the effective date for your right to claim statutory damages is the date that you file your copyright application. It is not the date your application is approved.
A timely registration preserves your right to seek more damages in court. Therefore, timely filing of your copyright registrations will increase the value of your intellectual property. It will also help deter potential infringers from stealing your work.