Though registering a work with the United States Copyright Office (USCO) is not necessary to obtain copyright protection, it is necessary in order to sue for the infringement in Federal court.
That, in turn, opens up the possibility for statutory damages as well as the return of any legal fees. Without these damages and fees, suing for copyright infringement, the in vast majority of cases, is simply not feasible. The actual damages are just too low to warrant hiring an attorney and going to court.
So, while registering your work with the USCO is not a requirement for copyright protection in the United States, it is a necessity in order to defend your work in court.
But the USCO’s system for registration was designed and developed in a different era. It is built to handle books, records and movies, not blogs and Web sites. Thus, registering your work with the USCO is both a tough decision and a difficult challenge.
Who Should Register
The first question most people ask when dealing with the USCO is whether or not they should register at all. After all, going through the trouble and expense of registration can be a daunting challenge.
To answer that, one has look at how likely they are to actually sue someone for infringement. Registration with the USCO is not necessary to file DMCA notices with hosts/search engines or cease and desist letters to plagiarists. If your sole interest is getting your work removed, registration with the USCO does not give you any extra tools, save, perhaps, some extra intimidation.
Given the global nature of the Web, suing someone for infringement is a very difficult matter. Once you’ve tracked them down they could be thousands of miles away, necessitating that you hire attorneys far away from you, travel to their location and take days off to handle these matter.
Though these costs can be recovered upon victory, many plagiarists are financially indigent and unable to pay, leaving you with the bill.
The end result is that, even though registering with the USCO never hurts, unless you think you might have cause to sue someone, it doesn’t do much good.
Still, it is better to be safe than sorry. Even if the chances seem slim, it may still be worth registering. After all, it’s a situation where a small investment can result in thousands of dollars in damages.
How to Register
Since the USCO hasn’t yet turned on their online registration functionality, registering a Web site, especially one that is regularly updated, is a tricky matter.
First, you need to download a complete copy of your site. If you have a static site that is backed up on your computer, you can use that, otherwise, you can use a tool such as HTTrack to download a copy of it to your computer.
Once you have a copy of your site downloaded, burn one copy of it onto CD and label those CDs with the work title and the author name. Also print out five representative pages of the site, for example, five articles or entries,
Then, fill out the appropriate form (most Web sites will use short form TX (PDF) as they are considered textual works with or without photographs and illustrations) and fill it out. The instructions for filling out the form are with the form itself.
One important note is that, even with blogs, do not use the form for serials or periodicals, those are for collective works, not serials published one article at a time. It would also be much more expensive, $25 per issue rather than a one-time $45 fee.
The only difficult question is whether or not the work is considered published or unpublished. Sadly, U.S. copyright law does not answer the question about whether or not posting a work online constitutes publication. That is left up to your discretion but, since a public performance or display of a work does not, in and of itself, constitute publication, most choose to say it is unpublished unless copies of the work are also being sold.
If you choose to consider it a published work, the publication date would be date the version you are registering was published. Most likely, that would be when the last changes were made and the latest updates were uploaded.
All in all, the process of registering a Web site is fairly easy. However, it requires thinking of one’s site in a very old-fashioned way, as a collective work that is still being revised. Hopefully the online registration system will change much of that and bring the registration process up to speed.
When To Register
The law states that, in order for the registration to be prima facie evidence of validity of copyright, it has to be made within five years of publication. However, since most Web sites are not going to be considered published works, there is no hard requirement.
When one should register and how often they should update will depend on how frequently the site is updated, the potential harm to the content if it goes unprotected and the expenses involved. Some people register yearly or even less often, others re-register monthly and others run the gamut between.
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It is just a matter of finding the right balance between cost and protection for you.
Though registering a site with the USCO is fairly easy, if you need extra help, there are other services such as Godaddy’s C-Site service available to help you for a fee.
These services can provide excellent support and convenience at a decent price. However, it is important to note that there is little reason to use these services other than the ease they provide.
Though some services will promise to provide you with faster service or greater protection, they can provide neither. Other than offering a legal review of the application, which is rarely necessary, these services can not provide anything you can not give yourself.
For most bloggers and Webmaster, registering their works with the USCO is not a necessity. Since they are unlikely to ever sue for infringement, registering with the USCO is simply a drain on time and money.
Those who are interested in registering are, most likely, better served by waiting for the USCO to release their online registration as it is promised to be cheaper, faster and easier to use. Hopefully that is only a few months away.
But those who don’t want to wait can, for the most part, file their own registration easily and quickly. All that it takes is a downloaded copy of the site, a few printed pages, filling out a short form and the writing of a check.
However, if that is too complicated or intimidating, there are a slew of services standing by to help, for a small fee. One can now register their site without ever leaving their computer.
In short, if you want to register your site with the USCO, there is no reason not to. The tools are widely available, it is just a matter of putting them to use.