This is an excerpt from a book I’m working on called Independent Comic Book Publishing designed to walk you through the basics of copyright registration. While it can’t be used as legal advice, I hope you’ll find it helpful.
Why Should You Copyright Your Comic?
You only have a limited amount of time and money to spend on your comic. Does it really makes sense to go through the motions of paying money and filling out copyright forms before the book is even created? The answer to that question depends on your goals and how much you value the benefits of copyright protection.
If you don’t see your comic as a viable commercial concept or if you think it is viable but for whatever reason you prefer to you are comfortable with the characters and story being used freely by anyone and everyone, then registration might not make sense for you. Legally, you are not required to register a copyright for your comic. But if you plan to invest time, money and energy into your idea and you want a better chance to benefit from your investment, the benefits of registration will be helpful to you.
The benefits of copyright registration include:
Before you can sue anyone for infringement, registration (or refusal) is necessary for works of U.S. origin.
Registration establishes prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright and facts stated in the certificate when registration is made before or within five years of publication.
When registration is made prior to infringement, a copyright owner is eligible for statutory damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs.
Registration permits a copyright owner to establish a record with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection for protection against the importation of infringing copies from other countries.
Basically, registration gives you piece of mind when it comes time to share your ideas with other creators. When you know you can go after someone for infringement and collect money from anyone who steals your IP, the © on your inquiry letter can be powerful.
Somewhere is the mists of time, a creative person decided to try and get the benefits of copyright registration without paying the costs for the registration. Under the concept of a “poor man’s copyright”, a person mails a potentially copyrighted work to themselves and uses the postmark to establish the latest date on which the work was created. This is a waste of time. While there is no legal requirement to register a copyright, “there is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration”. Besides, it doesn’t cost much to file a copyright application, and the process to file an application for a narrative work is fairly straightforward.
When Should You Submit Your Copyright Application?
You can submit a copyright application at any time, but to get the full benefits listed above, you have to submit the application within three months of publication. As an independent publisher who plans to share their ideas before publication, there are two other dates to consider.
First, you should only submit your application after your attorney has completed their IP review and you’ve decided to move forward with the idea. Second, you should submit your application before you begin looking for any outside investment in the book or reaching out to other creators to build a team to make the book. Keeping this timing in mind will protect you both from infringing on the rights of someone else and having someone infringe on your IP rights.
How Do You File a Copyright?
You need three basic elements to file a copyright application:
A completed copyright application
A deposit of the work you want to copyright
Payment of the copyright application fee
The copyright office has posted a useful tutorial video to walk you through the process, but I’ll cover the basics here.
The copyright application form you need for comics is either Form TX or Form SE depending on the form of your book. TX is used for published or unpublished literary works including fiction, nonfiction and compilations. SE is used for periodicals and serials. In general, if you’re planning to publish a graphic novel or a one shot comic, go with TX. Ongoing series should consider form SE. The form can be filed online or in print, but in my opinion, the copyright office prefers online filing.
The following information is required to complete form TX:
The title of the comic (called a “work” in copyright language), including previous or alternative titles
Information on all the authors and their relationship to the work (nationality, work for hire, anonymous contributions to the work)
The year the work was completed. (If you’re using the Idea Structure form from Chapter 4, use the Creation Date)
The name and address of the copyright claimants
Information about prior registrations (This won’t be applicable if this is the first time the book is being registered)
Information about derivative works (This will be applicable if your work is based on a pre-existing work)
Information about deposit accounts (If you apply for 12 or more copyrights a year, it might make sense to establish a deposit account)
Information about how the copyright office can contact you.
Your application needs to include a copy of the work you’re trying to protect. The regulations call for the best and most complete edition of the work. While you’re applying for a copyright to your comic, you’ll be submitting the application before the comic is complete, so the Idea Structure form and/or some version of the script should be the first deposit. Of course, book itself will inevitably change as you develop the final product. The Copyright Office has supplemental forms you can use when you’re ready to submit the finished work, or if the book changes completely, you can file a new form.
The fees for copyright applications in 2018 are $35 for forms TX or SE if you file online. If you file a paper application, the fee is $85. Copyright registration fees are subject to change, so before you submit your application, check the fee page of the copyright office. This fee will be in addition to any lawyer fees you decide to pay for copyright registration, but unlike trademarks my clients normally handle copyright registration on their own.
I hope this was helpful. Feel free to add your questions and comments below.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE AN ISSUE WITH YOUR COMIC PROPERTY, DISCUSS IT WITH YOUR LEGAL ADVISOR OR CONTACT C3 AT firstname.lastname@example.org FOR A FREE CONSULTATION.