James Atkins
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James Atkins


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Copyright Registration 101

Have you ever wondered how to protect your designs but didn't know where to begin?

In the latest issue of Columns, James Atkins, FAIA, explores design originality. To follow up, here is how to register a copyright:

A copyright can be registered by submitting an application form to the U.S. Copyright Office either online or by mailing a paper application.  

U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Ave. S.E.
Washington D.C. 20559-6000
1(877)476-0778 (toll free)

To learn how to register a copyright, go to the U.S. Copyright Office website and click, “Register a Copyright” in the upper left corner, then click “Visual Arts” at the top right. In the lower right corner of the page you will find links to the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) Registration System. Click on one of the eCO tutorials to access a PowerPoint, a PDF, or a video guide.  

The standard filing fee for electronic registration is $55 for basic claims. However, the filing fee is $35 if you register one work, not made for hire, and you are the only author and claimant. You can pay by credit or debit card, electronic funds transfer (ACH), or by Copyright Office deposit account. To send in the work you are registering, either upload a digital copy of your work, or print out a shipping slip to be attached to your work for delivery by mail.  

You can register by mail using fill-in forms. Just below the eCO Registration System, click on, “Other Services[Symbol],” and a drop down menu will have links to the forms. Form VA is to be used for “Architectural work.” 

After you have completed your first registration, the process will be much easier for the ones that follow. It is wise to develop a policy for registering copyright. You may wish to consider registering designs on projects that do not continue into construction. Unbuilt designs have a way of reappearing in other venues. If a project has been constructed, and an issue arises that could potentially challenge design ownership, register the copyright immediately. You may choose to register copyright on all of your designs. 

Since you own the copyright on all of your works immediately as you create them, you should consider including a copyright mark on all works produced by your firm.