Have you ever convinced yourself that something is simple…just because you want it to be simple?


You’re not alone. In the context of applications for US copyright and trademark registration, people decide every day that do-it-yourself (DIY) is an acceptable option because, to their wishful eyes, “it’s just paperwork.”


Or maybe they think, “maybe I shouldn’t do this completely on my own,” so they fork over a small fee to an online Service that offers to take care of it. Those Services (you know who we’re talking about) make boatloads of money by offering a false sense of security. Things might work out, and they might not. The Applicant is, essentially, playing Russian roulette.


Let’s talk about this, in the context of applications for US copyright registration.


The application forms are, in fact, relatively simple.


Applicant: See?


But those forms are the last step in a strategic legal process. Imagine writing a dissertation, then having to submit a form to the University in order to receive your actual degree.


It’s not about the form. It’s about the work that happens first.


Suppose Applicant recorded a new album of eleven brand new musical works. Applicant wants a US copyright registration for the album. There are important questions to ask, and strategies to choose, before it’s even possible to select the correct form. For example:


  • Does anyone else hold a copyright interest in any of the eleven musical works?
  • Does anyone else hold a copyright interest in any of the eleven sound recordings?


Applicant: What’s the difference between a musical work and a sound recording?

Service: We cannot offer legal advice.


Applicant: What does it mean to “hold a copyright interest?”

Service: We cannot offer legal advice.


  • Have any of the musical works been published?
  • Have any of the sound recordings been published?


Applicant: What does publication mean?

Service: We cannot offer legal advice.


  • Is the claimant the same for all musical works and all sound recordings?


Applicant: What does claimant mean?

Service: We cannot offer legal advice.


  • If unpublished, would you like to register in a single application, or four separate applications?


Applicant: Well, one. So I only have to pay one fee.

Service: OK. You’re the boss.


  • If published, would you like to register in two applications?


Applicant: I still don’t know what it means to be published.

Service: We cannot offer legal advice. If you want to be sure, you can register every musical work and every sound recording, separately.

Applicant: That would be twenty-two separate fees and applications!

Service: We take credit cards.


How is Applicant to know whether the appropriate path is a.) a single application; b.) four applications; c.) two applications; or d.) twenty-two applications?


The answer, of course, is to work with a competent copyright attorney who can explain the consequences of each option. For example: in the unpublished scenario, Applicant might successfully obtain a registration using the single application. However, in the event Applicant ever had to use the registration in litigation, Applicant would be dismayed to learn that, although each of the musical works and sound recordings were technically registered, Applicant was only entitled to statutory damages in connection with one work rather than twenty-two.


Applicant to Service: Are you kidding me? I could have recovered a ton in damages and instead I’m only getting a pittance.

Service: We did what you told us to do.


Service is spot on. When a person uses Service they are, by contract (i.e., via Service’s Terms of Use), representing themselves in the matter. And make no mistake: preparing an application for US copyright registration is a legal matter. Essentially, Service is no different than the US Post Office. It takes the work Applicant has chosen to do on their own, and transmits it to the US Copyright Office. Done.


Good luck, Applicant.