There is a popular myth that the best way to protect your copyright is to send a copy of the work to yourself in an envelope and that you will be protected so long as you do not open the envelope. Sadly, courts are not often persuaded by this evidence due to the ease of tampering. There are better ways to prove you are the original creator of a work.
One of the best ways is to register your copyright in the United States. Surprisingly having a US registration can be useful in disputes here in the UK. Many times the creator of a work will need to provide evidence that he is the creator and on the date the creation was created.
One of the main differences between English and US Copyright law is that the United States still has a copyright registration system whereas England abandoned it long ago. The United States (along with most countries in the EU) is a signatory to the Berne Convention. Countries which are signatories to this convention agree to recognize each others copyrights and to try to harmonize their laws as much as possible. Although the Convention began in 1886 it did not come into force in the US until 1989 mostly because of a stipulation which called for the abolition of the registration requirement for copyrights. This meant that you did not have any copyright protection unless you had formally registered the work with the national office. The US has changed its laws slightly in order to comply with the convention but has managed to keep the registration requirement. The US has several good reasons for wanting to keep the registration requirement. One of the main reasons is to build a national library. Even now part of the registration requirement includes depositing a copy of our work in the Library of Congress which has been in existence since 1800 and is the largest library in the world according to shelf space and number of books.
A U.S. copyright registration can be invaluable if you ever need to enforce your copyright in the U.S. In fact if you are a US citizen you will not be able to launch a lawsuit without a copyright registration. Copyright registration can also be critical even if you are from outside of the US. Without it you are limited to actual damages only which can be difficult to prove and quite low. With copyright registration you are entitled to statutory damages and lawyer's fees (not normally given under U.S. law.) which are generally arger sums and easier to prove than damages.
Merely having a registration can be useful especially since the infringer knows that they will have to pay both of your legal fees.
In our experience we have also found that having a copyright can help during web-based infringement and often hosts and ISPs are more likely to comply with a takedown notice that cites a registered copyright.
There are several important things to keep in mind however, when registering a work for a U.S. copyright. You may encounter difficulties if you are rejected for a copyright and then need to use or enforce it in the U.S. later. You should also be aware that when you register a copyright your work is made public. This can have important consequences particularly for software which has code most copyright owners would not want to be made public.
We can help you and advise you whether a US copyright registration may be beneficial. Registering work can be a complex process and we can guide you through it. We will also assist you on all further work with the US copyright office including transfers and assignments, renewals and US enforcement.
Azrights Solicitors is a firm of London Intellectual Property and Technology Lawyers advising on litigation and intellectual property rights.
Shireen Smith is the principal and specialist information technology and IP lawyer.
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