• Enhance Your Copyright in One Easy Step
  • May 5, 2003 | Author: Jessica D. Manivasager
  • Law Firm: Fredrikson & Byron, P.A. - Minneapolis Office
  • You may have written a book, recorded a song, coded a software program, or designed a web page, and wondered how to obtain and secure your copyrights so that others cannot copy, revise or distribute your work without permission.

    Once you have put your ideas into a tangible form, copyright law automatically protects your work. However, you can enhance the copyrights in your work by registering it with the United States Copyright Office.

    Mary, a computer programmer, creates and codes a software program. She contracts with a software manufacturer and a distributor to sell it to the public. While Mary already has copyright protection by virtue of her coding of the program's source code, copyright registration of her software program could enhance her copyrights in the following ways:

    Registration Facilitates a Request for Damages in a Legal Action Against an Infringer

    Someone is copying and selling Mary's software program without her permission. If Mary wants to stop the person (the "infringer") from copying and selling her software program, she most likely will need to file a lawsuit against the infringer to enjoin the unauthorized activities. While Mary may file a lawsuit without having a copyright registration to stop the infringer's unauthorized activities, she will need to obtain a copyright registration to request that the court award monetary damages.

    If Mary had registered the copyrights in her program prior to the infringement, she could submit a copy of the copyright registration to the court and ask for damages in addition to the injunction. Otherwise, she would have to obtain a registration after filing with the court.

    Because the Copyright Office typically takes six to eight months to process registrations, Mary will need to file an expedited application. She will pay an increased price for not registering her copyrights before the infringement occurred. The fee for a non-expedited registration is only $30, while the fee for an expedited registration is $610.

    Prior Registration Will Enhance Mary's Damages

    Assuming Mary registered the copyrights in her software program prior to the unauthorized activities and she is successful in her lawsuit against the infringer, Mary can choose between two types of damages. One choice is actual damages (basically, the infringer's profits and/or her losses due to the infringer's activities). The other choice is statutory damages (generally, an amount between $750 and $30,000 per work infringed).

    When actual damages are negligible (for example, the infringer did not make much profit, or Mary's losses are difficult to prove), statutory damages may provide Mary a higher damages award. In this scenario, Mary may ask for statutory damages in the amount of $750 to $30,000 per software program infringed. If the infringer's activities were "willful," the court may award Mary up to $150,000 per software program infringed.

    Compare the above scenario to one in which Mary did not register the copyrights in her software program prior to the infringer's activities. Mary would be entitled to actual damages only. If the infringer's activities were not profitable, or Mary could not prove her losses caused by the infringer's activities, Mary may recover little, if any, damages.

    Prior Registration Will Make Mary Eligible for an Award of Attorney's Fees and Costs

    If Mary registered her copyrights prior to the infringer's unauthorized activities, and if she is successful in her lawsuit, the court also may allow Mary to recover full costs, including reasonable attorney's fees, from the infringer. As these costs can be considerable, the ability to recoup them can be a great benefit to the copyright owner.

    If Mary did not register the copyrights in her software program prior to the infringer's activities, she cannot recover her costs and attorney's fees in pursuing the infringer in court.

    A timely copyright registration is an inexpensive yet invaluable investment to make in your work, as shown in the example above.