How to Register a Copyright in Alabama


The law of copyright, like the law of any other type of intellectual property, is complex and often misunderstood. This article will discuss some basic principles concerning your rights as an author and how to protect those rights in Alabama. We also provide information on what to do in case of infringement accusations .

Copyright Law

Copyright law is a form of protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Copyright arises automatically when the work is created (fixed in tangible form), rather than when it’s registered with the Copyright Office.

The copyright owner has the exclusive right to do or authorize others to do any one or more of these things:

  • Reproduce copies of the work.
  • Prepare derivative works based upon the work.
  • Distribute copies by sale or other transfer of ownership.
  • Perform publicly display the work; and make archival copies for preservation purposes.

Why You Should Register

Registration is recommended for a number of reasons.

  • The first reason is copyright infringement. If you don’t register your work with the United States Copyright Office, it’s much harder to sue an infringer for damages in federal court. In order for an infringement suit to be filed in federal court, the plaintiff must have first registered his or her work with the U.S. Copyright Office (the same agency that records copyrights). Without having prior registration, filing such a suit will result in removal of the case from federal court and transfer to state court—which is generally more expensive and time-consuming than its federal counterpart.
  • Another reason why registering your copyright is important is because it provides proof that someone owns something. In this case—a piece of writing or art. Registering your copyright allows you access to remedies provided by law if anyone tries stealing any part(s) thereof.

Register your Copyright to File an Infringement Lawsuit

Before you can file a copyright infringement lawsuit in court, it is necessary to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. While it may seem like it’s easier not to get registered and just file a lawsuit, this is not the case. If you don’t register your work, then you have no standing in court and therefore no ability to sue for infringement.

The legal Advantages of Registration

You have to register your work before you can sue for infringement. If a third party infringes on your copyrighted work, your ability to claim damages and receive statutory damages depends on whether you have registered the copyright. If someone copies your original piece of writing, drawings or music without permission, they may be liable for statutory damages which range between $750 and $30,000 per instance of infringement (17 U.S.C § 504(c)(2)(B)). According to Section 505 of the Copyright Act, you may also recover attorneys’ fees from an infringer if he or she acted willfully or deliberately stole your work. However, this option is only available if you have registered before bringing a lawsuit against an infringer who has not taken advantage of one of these defenses:

  • Fair use.
  • Necessary copying in order to provide services requested by the public (e.g., random sampling). Limited quotation from another’s work as long as it does not materially impair its market (this means taking more than 10% – 15% would be too much).
  • Parody or satire.
  • Incidental inclusion in another’s larger project (e.g., quoting someone else’s story into yours) Independent creation where two creators independently create similar works based on common sources without access by one another (e.g., two people writing about living with bipolar disorder).

Deposit Requirements:

The copyright office requires that you deposit your work with them before you can register it. The deposit requirement for a work of visual art is one copy of the best edition and one copy of a complete description of the work, for example, if you’re registering a painting, you would submit two copies of your painting (one to be kept by the government) and also include an itemized list describing what each painting contains (such as colors used, size in inches or centimeters).

For musical compositions: one copy or phonorecord embodying all musical works embodied therein, dramatico-musical works: one complete script or screenplay, pantomimes and choreographic works: one complete script or scenario, pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works: three copies or photographs not less than 2/3 inch by 1 inch in size depicting the whole copyrightable content of each book, photographic works other than still photographs: two reproductions showing visually all significant components constituting the entire front cover art display area under normal conditions.

Copyright For Unpublished Work

According to US Copyright Office, you can still obtain copyright protection for an unpublished work. If an unpublished work comes within the subject matter of copyright as specified by federal statute it is possible that the US Copyright Office may not register it. The US Copyright Office will accept applications for registration of an unpublished work, if the applicant submits the application and deposit materials in accordance with the following requirements:

  • The application must be accompanied by a nonrefundable filing fee; this fee is currently $65 per work (as of October 1, 2018). If you send multiple works at one time, you will need to pay only one filing fee. However, each individual work must have its own title page or “page count” documentations attached to each file so that staff members can distinguish between them when processing your submission(s).
  • Your application must include a signed statement attesting that all information on the form is true and accurate and that you can represent yourself as owner/author of whatever items you had included with your submission(s). This sort of statement will also appear on both physical copies (books) and digital content such as mp3 files or e-books downloaded from websites like Amazon Kindle store or iTunes Music Store – but it could also require additional information depending on how those platforms operate their business practices.

Unpublished Works

If you created the work yourself and do not want to publish it, you may register an unpublished work. Copyright law protects an unpublished work up to the same time limits as published works.

The following are examples of cases when you should register your unpublished works:

  • You want to copyright a manuscript that contains photographs or illustrations before you send it to a publisher.
  • You have written a book, play, musical score or other literary work but have not yet published it.

Published Works

The first requirement for copyright registration is that you be the author of the work. The Copyright Act defines an author as “the creator of a work,” which means that if you did not create the work yourself, someone else created it for you, you cannot claim to be its author. For example, if your friend wrote a book and told you all about it but didn’t give you any copies of it until after she died, then even though she may have been its true “creator” (i.e., writer), she would not be considered an “author” under U.S. law because she wasn’t involved in every step along the way: writing down ideas and creating finished works.

In case of works that involve multiple contributors, it is necessary for all the contributors to sign over their rights individually before submitting them together into something like a collection contract so there are no misunderstandings regarding the correct transfer of rights (from creator to publisher/publishers and back again if necessary.)

Copyright law is a complex area and if you need further advice or information on your specific situation, you should contact an attorney.


We hope the information provided here was helpful in explaining the basics of copyright law. If you have further questions or need more information, please contact an attorney.

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