The copyright owner should register a work in a timely manner for the following reasons. First, in the United States copyright registration is a prerequisite for bringing a copyright infringement lawsuit. A copyright owner cannot proceed with a copyright infringement lawsuit unless the work has been registered. Although a copyright owner might wonder why they should spend the time and money in registering the work before an infringement occurs when they can register the work after it has been infringed such reasoning could prove to be very costly and damaging to the copyright owner. The copyright owner might also be thinking that they would never file a lawsuit for infringement so why should they take the time and spend $30 to register the work. But if a lawsuit ever becomes an eventuality, at a minimum it could cost the copyright owner a significantly higher registration fee to expedite the registration of the work so that the lawsuit could be filed.
The second reason a copyright owner should register a copyrighted work in a timely manner is that the copyright owner will be eligible to receive "statutory damages" and "legal costs and attorneys' fees" from a copyright infringer. A timely manner means that the copyright registration was filed prior to an infringement taking place or within three months from the publication date of the work. If the infringement occurs prior to the effective date of copyright registration or after the three-month grace period then the copyright owner will not be entitled to receive statutory damages and legal costs and attorneys' fees. The effective date of copyright registration is the date when the Copyright Office receives the complete registration application that consists of the application, fee and deposit copies.
The significance of statutory damages is that it permits an award of special damages in a successful infringement lawsuit and negates the duty of the copyright owner to prove actual damages. The reasons why a copyright owner may elect to receive statutory damages rather than actual damages is that in many instances proving actual damages is very difficult or the profits of the infringer are very small. The statutory damages that will be awarded is discretionary and will depend upon how willful and harmful the infringement was usually the more deliberate and more damaging the infringement the greater the award. Furthermore, the legal costs in any copyright infringement lawsuit, particularly attorneys' fees, are extremely expensive. By registering the work in a timely manner the court also has the discretion to award attorneys' fees and legal costs to the copyright owner.
The third reason why the copyright owner should register a copyrighted work is that the Certificate of Registration serves as prima facie evidence that the work is original and is owned by the registrant of the copyrighted work. This becomes especially important if it becomes necessary for the copyright owner to obtain a preliminary injunction against a copyright infringer, such as the immediate cessation of the distribution of the infringer's work. The presumption of validity will only apply if the work has been registered within five years from the publication date.
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