Ballpark estimate: $35 to $85
If you write, paint, compose music, take photographs, make films, create software, or have your own website, you may want to protect the ownership of your work by filing a copyright with the United States Copyright Office so that no one else can try to claim your creative efforts as their own. When you have a formal copyright, you can legally prove your right to use your ideas and also to share them as you see fit, since this form of expression is yours to do with what you would like.
What is a Copyright?
A copyright is a way to officially stake your territory and try to keep from other people from stealing your results. Interestingly enough, the fact is that a copyright exists automatically on anything you create without you having to do anything. Yet the experts say that formally filing a formal copyright application can be well worth the effort anyway, since since it gives you more of a leg to stand on in the future if anyone tries to steal your work. This makes it especially important if you have an idea or expression of information that could be lucrative down the road and therefore could be pirated by other people.
Who Needs a Copyright?
A copyright can protect almost any form of creative expression, including acting skits, pantomimes, films or movies, photographs, artwork, sculptures, recipes, software, website content, and much, much more. Further, if you’re thinking of filing your copyright for these or other request sometime very soon but your work has not yet been formally published or finalized, you don’t have to wait. Even a piece or writing or other item that is not yet published can obtain a copyright.
What is Not Protected?
That being said, there are some things that don’t qualify for copyright status. This means things that are not unique or don’t have any extra contribution added that make it your own. You also cannot copyright things like phrases and titles. Finally, you may not copyright work that you do for someone else, such as for a company or project as an employee or consultant. This makes it necessary so be sure to find out the terms you are agreeing to when you work for them up front when you sign a contract to create anything that you don’t want to give up the rights to.
When to Skip
There are also times when you have material that you want to copyright that qualifies for this formal status but when you might determine it is best not to file the paperwork. This is because when you file for a formal copyright, you need to submit the information to the copyright office and this will become public record so anyone can see it if they desire. In the case of sensitive information that you don’t want to share, this may be a good time to skip the formal registration.
Finally, you may have the desire to to copyright work that you don’t have formal ownership of. If you don’t own the item, even if you are in possession of it, you still won’t be able to file for this status.
A copyright status will last for your lifetime and even beyond for another 70 years (the rules for older copyrights are different so check on your specific copyright if was filed about 35 years ago or before). Yet there are times when you’ll want it to be transferred while you still hold the status. You can do this by putting the desire to transfer the ownership in written form. Like the original copyright, you don’t need to formally file the request with the copyright office in order for it to become official, but again, by doing so you have a written trail that can help protect you in court if someone tries to infringe on the material in some way.
How to File
If you want to file a copyright with the government office, you can go to the website at www.copyright.gov and set up a personal account. To file for your work or item, you can fill out the paperwork online and pay the fee(s) by credit card. (See the cost section below.) To submit the work you want to copyright, you can attach an electronic version directly to your file online or send a hard copy in the mail if you prefer. (Note that once you fill out the paperwork for a formal copyright, the certificate can take a few weeks to arrive, so you’ll need to patience or upgrade to fast delivery.)
Cost for a Copyright
The price to file formal copyright starts at $35 and goes up to $85 to cover the one-time fee for this service. At the low end of $35, this covers a single piece of work with one author submitted online. For $55, this will be a more complicated case that has multiple authors or more details to handle. If you prefer to file a hard copy (instead of electronic submission) for consideration, this will cost you $85.
You might want to hire a lawyer if you have a more complicated situation. A lawyer will charge anywhere from $250 to $500+ for a straight-forward job. (Note that the price for a copyright changes periodically so you’ll need to make sure the terms mentioned in this article still hold true even is time has passed.)
Your copyright paperwork can take a few weeks to arrive in the mail. If you need to get the material sooner, you can select expedited service but this will cost you greatly—as much as $800 to get it right away.