Blogging IP Legal
Why it pays to register your copyrights
April 6, 2015
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Copyright registration has many benefits

There are a number of benefits to getting a copyright registration. Some of them are:

  • It’s a requirement before suing someone who’s infringed on your copyright (this is important!);
  • It is evidence of the fact that your copyright is valid; and
  • It’s a public record of the creation, including your name and the date of creation.

But that’s not all!

Let's talk about the (arguably) most important benefit

Assuming you like to make it easier to get money, that is.

You see, when you sue someone for anything, you generally need to prove the amount of damages. This means the plaintiff has to show evidence of how much they’ve actually been damaged by the defendant’s copyright infringement. Then, the court will take a portion of profit that the defendant made off of the infringement – however much they directly attribute to use of the plaintiff’s copyrighted material. This isn’t impossible, but it’s certainly very difficult to show both of them.

Another benefit of copyright registration, however, is that you’re eligible for something called “statutory damages” in a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Another benefit of copyright registration, however, is that you’re eligible for something called “statutory damages” in a copyright infringement lawsuit. This is a pretty useful benefit, as we’ll see in the next section.

So what ARE these ``statutory damages``?

Statutory damages are an amount of damages defined in the law. This means that you don’t have to actually prove how much you’ve been damaged – the number is right in the statute.

There are numerous examples of statutory damages in US law. For instance, in California, the Right of Publicity statute gives the option for $750 in statutory damages for those that can’t prove actual damages (if you’re not a celebrity with a valuable likeness).

In the case of copyright law, the statute allows for recovery of statutory damages in the amount of anywhere from $750 to $30,000 per infringed work, as the court deems appropriate. However, if the plaintiff can show that the copyright infringement was willful, the court can bump up those damages to $150,000 per work. This could be a very large damages award in cases of multiple infringements (multiple stolen blog posts, pirating and distributing multiple online courses, etc.).

[I]f the plaintiff can show that the copyright infringement was willful, the court can bump up those damages to $150,000 per work.

Sounds good - what's the catch?

The catch here is that it’s not enough to just register your copyright – you need to have registered it either BEFORE the infringement started or within the first three months after publishing the work.

You CAN (an many people do) rush to register once you discover that someone is stealing your work. However, unless that was less than three months after you published it, you’re stuck proving your actual damages.

How about one more cool benefit to registration?

If you’ve done the registration in a timely manner and are eligible for statutory damages, you may also be eligible to get attorneys’ fees. That means that the defendant would have to pay the reasonable cost of your attorneys’ work on the case.

Not bad!

One last tip

Here’s one more tip.

Willful infringement, in most federal courts, means that the infringer had knowledge or a willful disregard that they were doing something wrong. If you have a copyright notice on your work, this may serve as evidence that it was seen. The infringer continued to infringe anyway, and that means that a court could more easily decide that it was willful.

Though it’s not required in order to have a copyright, that notice may come in handy in cases like this! Something like this – © 2015 Zachary Strebeck

About author

Zachary Strebeck

I'm a solo practice lawyer and full-time digital nomad. I run my law practice at www.strebecklaw.com, representing Internet, mobile software and gaming entrepreneurs. I also blog about digital nomad travel at A Lawyer Abroad.

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