(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)
Original work is protected under the Berne Convention, Article 2 (2), in any country that is a signatory to the convention, which includes about 165 countries. However, only a few countries have a system of registering copyright. Although registering a copyright in these countries is not compulsory, there are some advantages. Copyright details are on public record and the author or creator has a certificate. In the US, if an author registers their work no more than five years after publication, it automatically qualifies as evidence in court. In the event of a successful court case, the author can get legal fees and statutory damages paid.
In the US, copyright registration services are provided by the United States Copyright Office. These days, the main method of registering a copyright is by electronic form via their online system. By clicking on the Registration tab at top of the home page, or on Forms (under Publications), the author or creator is taken to a page with all the registration details. From there, the person can click on the Electronic Copyright Office button and register before filling the forms out online. This service offers the quickest processing time, currently nine months or less, to obtain a certificate of registration. Progress of applications can be tracked online. The filing fee for online registration is $35, via secure payment.
Two other copyright registration methods are possible. A CO form can be downloaded from the Copyright Office site, filled in, and printed out. It can be mailed to the office. The fee for this option is $50. Instructions to fill in the form and a page of FAQs are provided online. For authors and creators without computer access, relevant forms, such as a Form TX for literary works, a Form VA for visual arts works, and so on, can be mailed out by contacting the office. Cost to register copyright this way is $65. For both methods, waiting time for a certificate is up to 22 months. The process can take this long depending on how busy the office is, as well as the number of questions about the application and perhaps establishing that the person is indeed the copyright holder.
In Canada, from the home page of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, authors and creators can click on “register your copyright” in the centre of the page. This goes to a page explaining the applications process. Clear and detailed instructions show applicants how to fill in An Application for Registration of Copyright form. At bottom, there is a link to the actual form. A fee of $50 is payable if submitting online; otherwise it’s $65. The office advises applicants of the progress of their application at several stages of the process. Canadians can expect a registration certificate in three working days for online applications and for special requests by fax or mail, and 10 working days for ordinary applications by fax or mail.
The only other countries with a copyright registration process are Albania, Argentina, Brazil, China, France, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Spain and Turkey. These countries have a government department or office where forms can be obtained and filled out to obtain registration. The UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have no registration system. In these countries, authors and creators can generally seek private registration. In the UK and Australia, for example, they can register and pay a fee to a private company, but no extra legal protection is gained. These two countries also have a process whereby publishers must deposit several copies of their work with national and other libraries, which acts as a form of copyright registration.