You have a copyright regardless whether or not you register with the U.S. Copyright Office, but having a registration sometimes speeds up resolution of copyright disputes. It lets the other side know you’re serious, it frightens some pirates and, because of the potential for an award of attorney fees and statutory damages (discussed below), it may help you attract a lawyer to take your case. Here’s a summary of some registration benefits:
- Registration creates the legal presumption that you own the copyright and that it’s valid.
- If you register your artwork prior to an infringement, or within three months of its publication (timely registration), you may be entitled to special payments known as “statutory damages” and to attorney fees from the person you sued.
- You can only file a copyright infringement lawsuit if you’ve registered your artwork first. The registration process takes approximately six months. It’s possible to expedite the registration for an added $800 in which case it can be acquired within five working days. So, timely registration can save you money and hassle if you have to chase someone.
Registering a Group of Unpublished Crafts Works
To save time and money, it’s possible to register a group or collection of your “unpublished” crafts works on one application. Unpublished refers to crafts works that you haven’t distributed or offered for sale to the public. A group of unpublished works may be registered as a collection if:
- the images of the works are organized in an orderly collection (a digital album, or placed in a photo book).
- the collection has a single title identifying it as a whole (for example, “Hannah’s Summer 2015 Crochet Collection”),
- the same person or persons is claiming copyright to all the works, and
- one person has created all of the works in the collection or has contributed to all of the works (for example, one artist does a series of collaborations with different artists).
Registering a Multi-Part Crafts Works
You can register a published crafts work that contains various parts or elements. For example, a crafts artist who creates a collection of sculptured chess pieces, a playing board and an ornate box to hold the pieces can claim a single copyright in the set. Also a group of published photos of your work can be registered — for example as a published book of your crafts works, a bound collection of postcards of your work or a poster containing several of your crafts items. For more information on registering photo collections, review Circular 40.
Filing a Copyright Application
If you’re comfortable with electronic filing—that is—preparing and filling out forms online—the eCO system is less expensive ($35 to $55 instead of $85) than using paper forms, and will likely result in faster turnaround. The eCO registration program provides extensive help for the application process. There are downloadable circulars that explain registration procedures and the eCO electronic system is heavily documented with online guidance. Below is some guidance on filling out the application:
Understanding the lingo: For copyright purposes, a crafts artist is an “author,” and the crafts being registered is the “work.”
Title of work: If there is no title, give an identifying phrase to serve as the title such as “untitled.”
Year of completion. Give the year in which creation of the crafts work was completed—the date you stood back and said, “I’m done.” If the crafts work has been published, the year of completion cannot be later than the year of first publication.
Date of publication. Give the complete date, in mm/dd/ yyyy format, on which the crafts work was first published — that is distributed to, or offered to the public. If you’re unsure, get as close as reasonably possible. Do not give a date that is in the future. Leave this line blank if the crafts work is unpublished.
Copyright ownership acquired by. If the claimant (the person claiming copyright ownership) is the author of the crafts work, skip this. Transfer information is required if the claimant is not an author but has obtained ownership of the copyright from the author or another owner. In that case, choose the appropriate box to indicate how ownership was acquired. When you check “Written agreement” that includes a transfer by assignment or by contract. “Will or inheritance” applies only if the person from whom copyright was transferred is deceased. If necessary, check “other” and give a brief statement indicating how copyright was transferred.
Material excluded from this claim. Choose the appropriate box or boxes to exclude any previously registered or previously published material, material in the public domain, or material not owned by this claimant. For example, if you were registering a fabric print that contains some public domain images, you would enter “public domain image of Sigmund Freud” in the “Other” box.
New material included in this claim. Check the appropriate box or boxes to identify the new material you are claiming in this registration. Again, you are only filling in this section if your work contains material by someone else. In section 4C, your goal is to indicate what you contributed. Give a brief statement on the line after “other” if it is necessary to give a more specific description of the new material included in this claim or if none of the check boxes applies.
Compilation. A compilation is a collection of material—for example, a book titled “The Crafts Report’s 100 Greatest Crafts Artists”—in which someone assembled, selected or organized the preexisting materials without transforming them. The author of a compilation seeks to protect the collection, not the individual works. A collection of your crafts works is not a compilation, since you’re seeking to protect all of the individual works, not the manner in which they are arranged or selected. A claim in “compilation” does not include the material that has been compiled. If that material should also be included in the claim, check the appropriate additional boxes.