Why does someone need to register a copyright? It’s quite simple. The statute requires that a potential plaintiff must have a copyright registration certificate before walking into court. The Supreme Court affirmed the plain language of the statute in March 2019. It is also better for the types of damages that a plaintiff in a copyright infringement lawsuit can ask the court for.

Registration Required for a Lawsuit

Registration of a copyright occurs, and a copyright claimant may commence an infringement suit, when the Copyright Office registers a copyright. Upon registration the copyright, however, a copyright owner can recover for infringement that occurred both before and after registration.

Under the Copyright Act of 1976, as amended, a copyright author gains “exclusive rights” in her work immediately upon the work’s creation. 17 U.S.C. §106. A copyright owner may institute a civil action for infringement of those rights, §501(b), but generally only after complying with §411(a)’s requirement that “registration . . . has been made.”

Registration Required for Copyright Damages\

One of the greatest advantages of registering a copyright pertains to the ability to recover statutory damages and attorney’s fees in a successful action. Given that many infringements costs many thousands of dollars to prove in court yet only generate provable damages of minor amount, the inability to collect significant damages and incurred attorney’s fees for infringement of a non registered copyright may make the difference between a successful action or a Pyrrhic victory.