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Filing a copyright protects your business from intellectual property theft. — Getty Images

You invest a lot of time and effort in creating original work for your business. The last thing you want is for someone to claim your work as their own.

That's why protecting your work with a copyright is so important. When you file for a copyright, your work will be protected from anyone else reproducing it, selling it, distributing copies of it and more.

Copyrighting your intellectual property is not required, but doing so is recommended if you want to protect your published or unpublished creative ideas. Here's what you need to know about the process.

What is a copyright?

Copyright law applies to creative ideas that are transferred to a tangible medium of expression, such as a piece of literature, art, music, architecture or performance.

Attorney Michael Lutz of McCausland Keen + Buckman explains that all published or unpublished copyrightable works are automatically protected under the Copyright Act. However, if you register for an official copyright through the U.S. Copyright Office, you obtain the right to sue for infringement, attorneys’ fees and statutory damages.

[Read our full intellectual property guide here.]

It's easy to get copyrights confused with trademarks and patents. A trademark is something that is used to identify a brand name or logo. Patents protect a unique or unobvious invention that has never before been used.

Copyright law applies to creative ideas that are transferred to a tangible medium of expression, such as a piece of literature, art, music, architecture or performance.

What kinds of work qualify for copyright protection?

There are nine basic types of work that can qualify for copyright protection, according to the Small Business Administration:

  • Articles
  • Books
  • Charts
  • Computer software
  • Graphs
  • Literary works
  • Musical works
  • Pictures
  • Website content

Within these types of work, your methods of operation, facts, ideas and systems are not protected.

Steps for filing

As with all business legal matters, it's advisable to consult with an attorney to help you with the copyright filing process. However, if you wish to file on your own, you may do so at Copyright.gov.

1. Gather application materials.

Prior to filling out your application, you will need to have all the details about your type of work, such as:

  • Title
  • Publication date (when applicable on already published pieces)
  • Names and citizenship of authors
  • The full name of the copyright owner, either the name(s) of the individual(s) or a company
  • The address of the copyright owner(s)
  • The form the work was published in, such as print or online

2. Complete your application.

Select the "Register for a Copyright" link on the Copyright.gov registration page to create a login and begin the application process. Be sure to fill your application out carefully, following its instructions exactly will help avoid any issues with getting your copyright approved.

While filing for a copyright online is the easiest and fastest way to process your application, paper applications are available and required in some cases. Processing times and fees can vary depending on the method: Online claims cost $35 and can take up to seven months (average is four). Mailed claims cost $55 and can take up to 18 months.

3. Upload or mail copies of your work.

Following the completion of your application, Copyright.gov will prompt you to upload or print and mail copies of your work to the Copyright Office. If mailing, expect to print one copy of an unpublished piece and two copies of pieces that were published in a printed format. In the case where you will be submitting musical works, you will need to upload your digital files (providing they do not exceed uploading size limits) or add them to a DVD or CD.

It's important to note that these works are non-returnable and remain on file with the U.S Copyright Office. Copyright.gov offers more detailed information about the copyright filing process on its FAQ page.

To learn more about protecting your intellectual property, visit CO—'s guide covering trademarks, patents, copyrights, trade secrets and publicity rights.

Published June 24, 2019