502 A Copyright Registration Covers a Claim in a Work of Original Authorship
The U.S. Copyright Office does not issue copyrights, but instead simply registers claims to copyright. See 17 U.S.C. § 408 (A) (stating that “the owner of copyright or of any exclusive right in the work may obtain registration of the copyright claim” by submitting an appropriate application, filing fee, and deposit to the Copyright Office). The copyright in a work of authorship created or first published after January 1, 1978 is protected from the moment it is created, provided that the work is original and is fixed in a tangible medium of expression.17 U.S.C. §§ 102 (A), 408 (A). In other words, the copyright in a work of original authorship exists regardless of whether the work has been submitted for registration or whether the Office has issued a certificate of registration for that work. See 17 U.S.C. § 408 (A) (“registration is not a condition of copyright protection”).
A copyright “claim” is an “assertion of copyright [ownership in] . . . the work.” Applications for Registration of Claim to Copyright Under Revised Copyright Act, 42 Fed. Reg. 48,944, 48,945 (Sept. 26, 1977). Thus, when an applicant files an application to register a work of authorship, the applicant is asserting a claim of ownership in the copyright in that work.
Although registration is optional, there are important benefits for registering a claim to copyright and for doing so in a timely manner. For a discussion of these benefits, see Chapter 200, Section 202.