Should I register my copyright?

matt_editedI am thrilled to have Intellectual Property attorney Matthew Goings of Goings Legal, LLC guest post today!

Matthew Goings is the founder of Goings Legal, LLC, a boutique Intellectual Property law firm located in Atlanta, Georgia representing individuals, start-ups, and small businesses in their intellectual property and contract needs. I know what your thinking: “He was a total band geek.” You are absolutely right. During his time as an undergrad at the University of Georgia, he marched tenor saxophone in the Redcoat Marching Band. He was also a member of the Brotherhood of the music fraternity Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia (sounds like one of those secret societies…).

If you have any questions or concerns about your wedding or event business’ trademarks, copyrights, or other intellectual property, be sure to give him a call.


What kind of rights to I have to my [blog, photograph, music, site content, business information, etc] if I do NOT register for copyright protection?

First, I need to clear up a common misconception: the existence of a copyright is not reliant on whether you have registered the work or not. So the short answer is that even if you have not registered your work with the Copyright Office, you enjoy all the same rights as someone who has copyrighted their work.
The long answer starts with an explanation of when copyright comes into existence. Copyright vests in a work as soon at the moment the work is completed and fixed in a tangible medium. I’ll break the terms down using music as an example.
The work must be complete. This means that you have recorded all parts of the song, all mixing has been done, you’re satisfied with the song, and say (not literally) “This is song is finished.” Next, the work must be “fixed in a tangible medium.” Copyright law says that “fixed” means more than a transitory duration but does not define what this means. Thus, its definition has been at issue in several lawsuits. While none of these cases resulted in a hardline definition or test for “transitory duration,” we can safely state that something lasting longer than a few seconds constitutes fixation. Finally, the work must be in a tangible medium. Tangible medium can vary based on what kind of work is at issue. For music, the medium could be the paper on which the words or composition is written; for the recorded song, the medium would be whatever the song is stored on, such as a cassette tape or hard drive. To recap, the second that a work is fixed in a tangible medium, copyright protection attaches to it.
So what are the rights you have under copyright protection? The owner of the copyright has the exclusive rights to do the following:


The Clermont Lounge in Atlanta has seen its fair share of works displayed publicly….

1) Display or perform the work publicly. These are technically two separate rights, however, they accomplish the same purpose. The only difference in the rights is the type of works that the right applies to. The right itself is fairly self-explanatory. You have the right to display (or perform) your work, allow others to display it, or prevent others from displaying it. In terms of copyrightable content on your website, you can prevent other websites and users from using your content without your permission. Any type of live stream on your site would fall into public performance for the duration of the live feed and then fall under display if a copy is made available for later viewing. While you have the right to prevent others from using your work, you must be on the lookout for infringing use of your content in order to enforce your copyrights.

The display right is limited in scope to:
• Literary works
• Musical works
• Dramatic works
• Choreographic works
• Pantomimes
• Motion pictures
• Audio visual works
The performance right applies (with some overlap) to:
• Literary works
• Musical works
• Dramatic works
• Choreographic works
• Pantomimes
• Pictorial works
• Graphical works
• Sculptural works
• Stills (individual images) from motion pictures or audio visual works

Schenk Smith Mail

Just because you have the right to reproduce that pic of your family and send it to everyone you know, doesn’t mean that you should…

3) Reproduce the work. As the owner of the work, you are the only one permitted to make copies or reproductions of the work. If you’ve posted a photo or blog that you created, you can make as many copies of it as you’d like. In contrast, another person infringes on your copyright if they download a photo or copy the blog post off of your website. With websites, this right is hard to police as you do not have access to the computers of everyone who visits your site. Though there may be some options available to prevent users from downloading your content without permission.
4) Make derivative works. This right is similar to reproduction. According to copyright law, a derivative work is defined as “a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement . . . condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted.” In terms of your website content, a derivative work could be a translation of your blog post or a retouched photo. As the owner, you are the only one permitted to make or authorize such works.
5) Distribute copies of the work. This distribution right applies to both reproductions and derivative works and is self-explanatory. Another can infringe on this right by selling your works without your permission. CAVEAT: The distribution right only applies to the first sale of the copyrighted work, known as the “first sale doctrine.” This means that you have no control over the distribution of that particular copy of the work after you sell it to someone, meaning they can resell it to someone else. However, you still retain all other rights, such as reproduction or public display.
In conclusion, you still have all copyright rights in your content without registering your copyright. There is one thing that requires registration, however: if you want to sue someone over copyright infringement, you must register the work with the Copyright Office. This registration also gives you the ability to claim statutory damages (a set amount of damages per work infringed, ranging from $750-$30,000 per work) for infringement, however, the work must have been registered at the time of infringement to claim statutory damages.


For further information, contact an attorney in your area. Don't know any? Go to and search. It's super easy!