How to Register a Copyright for Paper Goods


Whether you’re a designer or just an avid doodler, having your own line of paper goods is a great way to get your work out there and make some money. But before you go into production, it’s important to understand how copyright law works for paper goods. The good news is that registering a copyright for your work is easy and inexpensive.

Copyright Law Protects Original Creative Works

Copyright law protects original creative works. If the work isn’t original, it can’t be copyrighted. If a work is copied from someone else’s, that doesn’t mean you don’t have any rights to it. It means that you can only enforce your rights against the person who copied from you and not anyone else who used that same idea/work in their own business or publication.

However, if something is truly unique (like an original song), then no one else should be able to use it without permission from its creator or unless they create something even better than yours.

You Own the Copyrights to Your Works

Copyright law protects original creative works, such as literary, dramatic and musical works; pantomimes and choreographic works; pictorial, graphic and sculptural works, sound recordings, and cinematograph films.

Copyright protection is automatic for any work that is fixed in a physical medium (eg: book, painting) or written down (eg: song lyrics). It is also automatic if it is recorded on film or video tape. You do not have to register your copyright before it becomes effective. There are some exceptions however – you cannot copyright a title or phrase such as “The Wizard of Oz” but you can protect the use of other characters and settings within this story. The © symbol is owned by the copyright holder and can only be used with permission from them.

When you write a book, record an album or create artwork, you are automatically protected by copyright law. However, this protection is limited to your original expression of ideas and does not extend to titles or phrases that may be as familiar as “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Gone with the Wind.”

Steps of Registering a Copyright

1. Write a book, record an album or create artwork.

2. Make a copy of the original work; this can be on paper or in electronic format. You do not need to register your work with the Library of Congress until it is published and distributed to the public.

3. Include your name and contact information with each copy of your work (such as an author bio on the back cover of a novel).

4. Register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office.

You Cannot Copyright a Title or Phrase with a Copyright

You cannot copyright a title or phrase. The Copyright Office will refuse to register titles, names, short phrases, or slogans. You can only copyright the original creative work—the paper goods themselves.

So what happens if someone steals your original design? You can pursue legal action against them on grounds of trademark infringement. Unlike copyrights, trademarks protect words and symbols that identify a company’s products or services and prevent others from using them without permission (think Coca-Cola). For example: If someone were to sell “Paper Goods for Scrapbookers” mugs at their local craft fair under your name with no attribution, they’d be in violation of both trademark law and copyright law because they’re using something that belongs exclusively to you (your designs) as well as something other people own (their names).

The © Symbol is Owned by the Copyright Holder and Can only be Used with Permission

The © symbol is not required, but it’s recommended. The copyright symbol is a way to notify the public that your work is protected by law. It should be used on the front page of your work, as well as the back.

Your Rights are Immediately Protected

Now that you have a copyright, you can take advantage of your right to reproduce, distribute and perform the work. You also have the right to create derivative works based on it. You can license or sell your copyright or transfer it in whole or in part as long as the new owner agrees to be bound by these terms (that means they’ll honor all of your rights).

You’re ready for some good news: once registration is complete, if someone infringes upon any one part of your copyright (say they steal just one word from your book), no matter how much else belongs to someone else—you own that word.

Only the Copyright Owner has the Right to Reproduce, Distribute or Perform the Work

When you register a copyright for your paper goods, you own the rights to reproduce, distribute or perform the work. You can give anyone else permission to use your work in certain ways.

For example, you may want to allow someone else to use your work on their website as a banner ad or in an e-book they’re publishing. Or they may be using it as part of their portfolio and want to include it with other pieces they’ve created.

If that person wants only limited use of your design—for example if they plan on displaying it during one event—you’ll likely give them permission for “limited” uses instead of an unlimited license that would let them use the artwork without limits throughout its lifetime (or until another transfer agreement takes place).


The takeaway from this episode is that copyright law is governed by federal law, and you can use a copyright to protect your paper goods. It is automatic for any work that is fixed in a physical medium, like a piece of art or an article. You cannot copyright titles or phrases, but you can register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office so it will be valid against other people’s claims on your work. The © symbol is owned by the copyright holder and can only be used with permission, however, some companies have developed their own version of this symbol to represent their brand identity and distinguish themselves from others in the industry who might want to use it as well.


I hope that you’re now armed with the knowledge to register your own copyright. It might seem like a daunting task, but if you follow these steps and keep your work safe and secure, then it should be relatively simple. If you have any questions about this process or would like some help, then please don’t hesitate to contact us at our offices.

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