Under the DMCA, if you are an American citizen/company and you want to sue for copyright infringement, you need to register your works with the United States Copyright Office.
Luckily, the process isn’t very difficult, expensive or time consuming. For most people, it involves a few minutes of paperwork, some CD burning/printing and a few days wait for mailing. It’s not a major nuiscance, but it’s one that no serious copyright holder can afford to put off.
The first step is to visit the Copyright Office’s Registration page and see which form you need. The most important thing there to remember is that all textual works, including computer code (HTML), are classified as “Literary Works” and use that form. The rest of the groupings are pretty self-explanatory.
From there, fill out the form using the instructions included with it. The instructions aren’t written in legaleseand even a non-lawyer type like myself can understand them easily. Generally the forms are very easy and can be filled out in just a few minutes.
All you have to do after that is bundle the form with your payment, usually thirty dollars, and required sample items (requirements will be listed in the directions) and ship it off to the address at the bottom of the form.
However, when mailing the items, be sure to send it with some kind of signature confirmation (IE: Certified Mail). The reason is that your registration becomes valid the day the package is received, not when you get your certificate. Besides, it’s nice to be sure your package actually got there, it can help avoid a very embarassing and potentially costly situation.
The only thing that’s complicated about registering your works is that the Copyright Office hasn’t fully caught up with the Internet age and registering a Web site on a form designed for novels or paintings can be very tricky. Luckily, the Copyright Office has a very handy circular on the subject that goes into great detail about how to go about registering a site.
If you are still uneasy or nervous about registering your copyright, there’s several great services online that will do it for you. C-Site, by the people who brought you Godaddy.com, registers almost anything, including Web sites, for under $20 plus filing fees (an express service is available for ten dollars more). Another alternative is Copysite, which is by the people at CoffeeCup Software, charges roughly $100 plus filing fees for its service but offers more automation and uses lawyers rather than simply “experts” to fill out the forms.
In the end, the choice is yours but, in truth, it’s something that’s easy to do and no third party can provide a service you can’t easily do on your own. You’re really paying more for convinience and peace of mind.
But, no matter what route you go, if you’re serious about your copyright, this is not a step you can ignore. The benefits are simply too great and the costs too steep. You owe it to yourself and to your cherished work to do it today.