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The most important reason to register your copyrights

Game lawyer Zachary Strebeck looks at the big reason you should register your copyrights sooner than later: more money. A prompt registration allows you to get damages for infringement without having to prove how you were actually damaged.

Zachary Strebeck, Blogger

April 16, 2015

9 Min Read

The many benefits of copyright registration

Getting a copyright registration for your creative works has numerous benefits. Here’s a few:

  • You need to register in order to actually sue someone who’s stolen your work (a big one);

  • It is evidence of the fact that your copyright is valid; and

  • It’s a public record of the creation, including your name and the date of creation.

That’s not all, though.

One is more important than the others, though

Assuming you like easy(er) money, that is.

You see, when you sue someone for anything, you generally have to prove how much you’ve been damaged. This means the plaintiff has to show evidence of how much they’ve actually been damaged by the defendant’s copyright infringement. Then, the court will take a portion of profit that the defendant made off of the infringement – however much can be directly attributed to the plaintiff’s copyrighted material. This isn’t impossible, but it’s certainly very difficult to show both of them.

Another benefit of copyright registration, however, is that you’re eligible for something called “statutory damages” in a copyright infringement lawsuit. This is actually pretty useful, as we’ll see in a second.

What are statutory damages?

Statutory damages are an amount of damages defined in the law. This means that you don’t have to actually prove damages – they are right there in the statute.

There are many examples of statutory damages in the law. For instance, California’s Right of Publicity statute gives the option for $750 in statutory damages for those that can’t prove actual damages (those who don’t normally charge for photos of themselves, for instance, or have no marketable likeness).

In the case of copyright law, the statute allows for recovery of statutory damages in the amount of anywhere from $750 to $30,000 per infringed work, as the court deems appropriate. However, if the plaintiff can show that the copyright infringement was willful, the court can bump up those damages to $150,000 per work. This could be a very large damages award in cases of multiple infringements (multiple stolen blog posts, pirating and distributing multiple game titles, etc.).

What’s the catch?

The catch here is that you don’t have to just register your copyright – you need to register it either BEFORE the infringement began or within three months of the date that the work is published.

So while you CAN rush to register once you discover that someone is infringing on your work, unless that was less than three months after you published it, you’re stuck proving your actual damages.

One more cool benefit

If you’ve done the registration in a timely manner and are eligible for statutory damages, you may also be eligible to get attorneys’ fees. That means that the defendant would have to pay the reasonable cost of your attorneys’ work on the case.

Not bad!

Protip: Willful infringement, in most federal courts, means that the infringer had knowledge or a willful disregard that they were doing something wrong. Having a copyright notice on your work (such as © 2015 Zachary Strebeck) may serve as evidence that it was seen, and the infringer continued to infringe anyway. Though it’s not required, that notice may come in handy in cases like this!

If you need assistance getting your copyrights registered or have questions about your intellectual property in general, why not contact an attorney? You can also check out my free eBooks about game development legal issue AND join in on my free Game Lawyer Q&A this Friday, April 9 at 9:35pm EST. Go to the Google Hangout-on-air page to sign up and ask your question!

photo credit: Pink Piggy Bank via photopin (license)

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