Should I copyright my own work, or use an intellectual property attorney to help me?

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2023Fact Checked

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Jeffrey Johnson

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Mary Martin

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Mary Martin has been a legal writer and editor for over 20 years, responsible for ensuring that content is straightforward, correct, and helpful for the consumer. In addition, she worked on writing monthly newsletter columns for media, lawyers, and consumers. Ms. Martin also has experience with internal staff and HR operations. Mary was employed for almost 30 years by the nationwide legal publi...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2023

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2023Fact Checked

Remember that although works of authorship generally obtain copyright protection when they are fixed, in practice, you must still register your copyright with the U. S. Copyright Office to enforce your rights under the Copyright law, or to use the copyright to secure an obligation. Copyright registration is designed to be a simple process. In fact, it was originally the intent of the copyright office to make it so accessible that attorneys would not be needed in the registration process. With this in mind, it is very simple to fill out and file the form yourself.

Before making an appointment with an intellectual property attorney, review the form and determine whether you feel able to fill it out. Aside from the form, you will be required to pay a filing fee and submit two or more copies of your work. These copies are kept on file with the copyright office for future reference should anyone attempt to copy your work.

In addition, if you are planning on working with a specific agent or publisher, you will not need an attorney to obtain your copyright. If your work is finished before you sign on with an agent, fill out the standard form and submit it for protection. Then, when you negotiate with a publisher, they will instruct you on their terms, especially as to whether they require you to turn over the copyright and collect a sum up front, or if you keep your copyright and they keep a percentage of your profits.

There are some occasions when consulting a copyright attorney is a good idea, in order to protect yourself from copyright infringement. For instance, if your work was created by more than one author. If you think your work may have commercial value, it would make sense to protect that value. Discussing the many important Intellectual Property-related issues such as how to market the work, how to license the work without “giving it away,” and your rights in foreign countries could help you maximize your work’s value and help you avoid significant problems down the road.

Consulting an experienced intellectual property attorney with extensive experience early in the process is usually a wise investment. There are different types of copyright, so it is important to talk with a copyright lawyer as well as the copyright office to understand how to best protect your work. If you have already set up a specific business with a business attorney, you could also consult with that attorney as most business and corporate attorneys also file intellectual property paperwork for their clients.

Case Studies: Copyrighting Your Work or Using an Intellectual Property Attorney

Case Study 1: John’s Solo Art Exhibition

John, a talented artist, recently completed a series of paintings for a solo art exhibition. He wonders whether he should copyright his work or seek the assistance of an intellectual property attorney. John decides to consult the copyright office and discovers that the registration process is straightforward and designed to be accessible to individuals without legal expertise.

He decides to file the copyright registration himself, filling out the form and paying the required fee. This allows him to protect his artwork and enforce his rights under the Copyright law.

Case Study 2: Emily’s Novel and Publishing Deal

Emily, an aspiring author, has finished writing her debut novel. She receives interest from a reputable publishing company and is offered a publishing deal. Emily wants to understand her rights and obligations regarding the copyright of her work. She learns that if she signs with the publisher, they will guide her on the terms related to copyright ownership.

This includes whether she should transfer the copyright to the publisher in exchange for an upfront sum or retain her copyright while the publisher collects a percentage of the profits. Emily decides to consult the publisher and follow their guidance regarding copyright.

Case Study 3: Mark’s Collaborative Project

Mark and his colleague collaborate on a screenplay for a potential film project. Since their work involves multiple authors, Mark believes it would be wise to consult an intellectual property attorney to protect their joint copyright.

He realizes that discussing important intellectual property issues, such as marketing, licensing, and international rights, with an experienced attorney could maximize the value of their work and prevent future complications. Mark decides to seek the expertise of an intellectual property attorney to ensure comprehensive protection of their collaborative project.

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Jeffrey Johnson

Insurance Lawyer

Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

Insurance Lawyer

Mary Martin

Published Legal Expert

Mary Martin has been a legal writer and editor for over 20 years, responsible for ensuring that content is straightforward, correct, and helpful for the consumer. In addition, she worked on writing monthly newsletter columns for media, lawyers, and consumers. Ms. Martin also has experience with internal staff and HR operations. Mary was employed for almost 30 years by the nationwide legal publi...

Published Legal Expert

Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about legal topics and insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything legal and insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by experts.

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