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Must you register original creations for copyright protection?

Intellectual property laws protect creators like artists, photographers, musicians and writers. By preventing others from using one party’s original creations without compensation or permission, the government helps motivate creators to produce new works. Having control over a creation is ultimately the only way to monetize it.

Businesses often register with the federal government to optimize their intellectual property protections. They may register a trademark, for example. There is also a formal copyright process that involves filing paperwork with the government about an original creation. Is a formal copyright necessary for someone who wants to protect their original creations?

You don’t need to register a copyright, but it can help

In theory, it is the act of publishing an original work that establishes you as the creator and owner of that work. Whether you submit photographs that you took for publication in print magazines or publish your essay on social media, as soon as you release that original content to the world, you have copyright protection.

If someone else in this uses your original creation, possibly by reprinting it without your permission, your copyright allows you to take legal action against them for that infringement. You do not necessarily need to register a copyright to take legal action against someone who misuses your intellectual property.

However, the government recognizing your copyright will certainly strengthen your case. Even if you already have a general copyright from publication, you may decide that filing copyright registration paperwork is a good step as you consider enforcement action. Learning about your intellectual property rights will help you protect your creations from the unethical behavior of others.