Timely Registration of a Copyrighted Work
For a copyright registration to be “timely,” registration must be made within three months of the publication of the work and before infringement occurs. Timely registration enables the copyright owner to seek attorney’s fees and statutory damages in an infringement action.
Register within three months of “Publication”
Registration must occur prior to or within three months of the publication of the work (and before any infringement) for you to be able to seek statutory damages and / or attorneys’ fees in an infringement action. Registering a published work as “unpublished” can invalidate the copyright registration!
The Copyright Act defines publication as, “offering to distribute or actual distribution of copies of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease or lending.” Specifically, the work must be offered to the public without implicit or explicit restrictions. Further, distribution to a limited class, for a limited purpose is a limited publication, which is not considered the kind of general publication that would render a work “published” under the Copyright Act.
For example, creating a limited number of works and giving copies to your friends and family likely is a “limited publication.” If you sold copies at a crafts fair or to a retailer for re-sale, that is “general publication.”
Register before infringement
Registration must occur before infringement (and within 3 months of publication) for you to be able to seek statutory damages and / or attorneys’ fees in an infringement action.
A Certificate of Copyright Registration is required to sue someone for copyright infringement. Although your registration date is the date that the Copyright Office receives the application, your copyright registration is not valid until the Copyright Office issues the Certificate of Registration.
The Copyright Office allows expedited service with the payment of a (vastly!) increased fee. If you believe that your work is likely to be infringed shortly after it is published, it may be worth it to file the “expedited” registration to ensure your right to seek statutory damages and attorneys’ fees.