This is for non-lawyers and lawyers who do not practice in the area of intellectual property. It is meant to correct a very common and damaging misconception about United States copyright law. As an intellectual property litigator, I see this error frequently and, for those copyright owners who end-up having to deal with an infringer, it creates a serious problem.
Most of us understand that works gain the protection of U.S. copyright law when they are created and fixed in some tangible format. This is accurate and important but, at the same time, a little bit misleading. Creating and fixing your work affords you with rights, but . . . and here is the key . . . you cannot enforce those rights without a copyright registration (A refusal from the Copyright Office to register will also suffice, although you will have to prove to the court that the Copyright Office’s refusal was improper).
In other words, you cannot bring a lawsuit under the U.S. Copyright Act until your work is registered or registration was refused. If your work is infringed, you can rush to register it, but having waiting, you will likely have forfeited your right to recover money damages or attorney fees.
So, register your work and do so early. Think of the registration as your key to the courtroom.
And, while on the topic, let’s quickly address another misconception. There is no “poor man’s copyright.” The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself and then relying on the date on the envelope gives no copyright protection. Save your stamp!
David M. Lilenfeld