Many artists, especially entrepreneurs who are just starting off, often start talking to others about their work without realizing that they may be disclosing too much. Their creative ideas or works are assets, and if they do not establish ownership of these assets, the assets could be lost.

Artists often do not realize how important it is to establish ownership over their works, before displaying or disclosing them to the public.

Generally, copyright attaches automatically the moment the original work is created and “fixed” in a tangible medium. Copyright owners possess the right to prevent others from copying and selling the copyrighted work. However, in addition to those rights, the U.S. Copyright Act provides additional rights and protections to registered copyright owners.

First, copyright registration establishes a public record of the copyright ownership. This puts the public on notice of your ownership of the work. It also allows you to affix the copyright notice © to your work.

Second, the certificate of copyright registration serves as evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and your ownership. This is also helpful when a copyright owner seeks swift action and a response from an infringer. With a copyright registration, the effect of a “cease and desist” letter is stronger on an infringer who understands the consequences of a legal action.

Further, in a legal action, a registered copyright owner can obtain statutory damages — without having to prove actual damages, legal costs and attorneys’ fees. The range of statutory damages is between $750 and $30,000 per infringed work, which is discretionary upon the court. In addition, if the copyright owner can show willful infringement, the available damages may increase up to $150,000 per infringed work.

Copyright registration is easy and inexpensive, and offers considerable benefits to copyright owners. Failure to obtain timely copyright registration can also result in significant consequences, which can include theft and infringement. The application for copyright registration should be filed immediately upon the work’s creation, but in no event later than disclosing the work to the public.

For artists, or for those who have created any work that they do not others to copy, copyright registration should pay a fundamental role in helping to establish and maintain the value of your work. Failure to register your work can potentially leave you without the additional rights, protections and benefits under the U.S. Copyright Act, and without an effective means to pursue an infringer.