Step-by-Step Tutorial for Paper Registration

If you really prefer paper — or your material is not eligible for online filing — the Copyright Office asks you to use the new Form CO, which is a PDF document that you fill out on your computer, then print and file. The old Form VA is still being accepted, but it is not recommended.

Working with Form CO

Unlike the old Form VA, you may not simply print out the form and write your information using black ink. Form CO encodes what you type into complex bar-codes that can be automatically scanned in the Copyright Office. For this reason, you will need to:

After you have filled out the form completely online, you will print it out and sign it. Your signature must be handwritten, but it should be the only handwritten thing on the form.

Form CO may be printed single-sided or on both sides of the paper. However, if you print on both sides, you must take care to line up the paper so that both sides are printed “right way up” or head-to-head. You should also avoid using any “reduce to fit” option when printing.

Adobe Reader is fine for filling out the form, but it cannot save a form with your changes. (For that, you would need Acrobat Pro, Version 8 or higher.) However, you can prepare several registrations from the same Form CO by keeping the form open on your screen after you print out each submission, then changing only the parts that are different each time.

Although the layouts are different, the questions asked on Form CO and on the screens of eCO have the same meanings.

Form CO, step by step

Throughout the form, you will see that some items have an asterisk by the item number. These items are required for all submissions. Other fields will be required only for certain kinds of material, so read each question before you skip it.

And you may notice that, as you finish each field, a bar code near that field will change. The Copyright Office scans these bar codes to “read” the form with high accuracy. If you are curious, you can click the little question-mark icon by each barcode to display its literal contents.

Section 1 — the work being registered









Question 1a. Photographs are “Visual arts work”, so check that box.

Question 1b. Give the image(s) a descriptive title. If you are registering a group of images, give the group a name such as “450 photos Vol. 1, January 2009.”

Note that you can list several individual titles by clicking the button “Click here to create space to add an additional title.”

Section 2 — author information

Question 2a or 2b. If the images you are registering were created in your capacity as an employee of a business, the business is legally the author. If so, put the business’s name in 2b and leave 2a blank. On the other hand, if you work as an independent, or if the images were created outside of the scope of your employment, then you are the author. In that case, enter your name in 2a and leave 2b empty.

Question 2c. Even though you as an individual are the author, you might well use a “company name” for your operations. If so, you may enter the name in this space. It isn’t required, but if you are infringed it may make your case a bit more airtight.

The author of a work may or may not be the same as the “claimant” named in section 3. For instance, if you publish under a pseudonym, you’d enter your assumed name here (and check “Pseudonymous” in question 2g), but you’d always want to put your real name as the claimant. Normally, though, an independent photographer is the author and also the claimant.

Question 2f. There are two questions here: citizenship and domicile. Domicile means legal residence, the place where you live on a long-term basis. For instance, you could be a U.S. citizen, yet have your domicile in Canada, perhaps as a Permanent Resident. You do not have to be a U.S. citizen or resident to register a copyright in the U.S.

Only one name may be entered per space. As with question 1, you can click a button to create additional fields if there are two or more authors.

Section 3 — claimant information

The claimant is the owner of the copyright. Often, it is the author. If it is not, be sure to indicate in question 3e how you became the owner.

If your business is incorporated, it is legally a different entity than you as an individual. If you create as an individual and then have your business own and market the rights, you will need to indicate that copyright is being transferred.

Because this portion of the form concerns legal ownership — which might be contested in court, should it come to a lawsuit — you should always give complete information. The authorship of a work might be anonymous or under an assumed name, but the owner (or owners — there is a button to click if there are more than one) must be real.

Section 4 — limitation of copyright claim

If your work is entirely an original creation, just leave this section blank. However, if you are registering a derivative work or a compilation, you must identify the components that existed previously. Your copyright applies only to the portion that constitutes new creation.

For instance, if you are publishing a calendar that includes photos you previously registered, along with new text and layout, you can register your copyright in the new text and layout. But you must still identify the photos as previous work.

Section 5 — rights and permissions contact

If someone wanted to license your images, whom would they contact to negotiate terms? In this section, you might identify your agent or business manager, if you have one. If you do your own deals, you can simply check the checkbox to copy over the info from section 3.

Section 6 — correspondence contact

This section tells the Copyright Office whom to call if there are questions about your application. Nearly all the items are required, and it’s in your interest to give the Copyright Office staffers very good information.

Section 7 — mail certificate to

Again, there are checkboxes to make this as painless as possible. But if the certificate needs to go somewhere special, this is the place to say so.

Section 8 — certification









Question 8b asks you to type your name once again, this time in the form that matches your signature.

Question 8d is used only if you have a deposit account with the Copyright Office. Otherwise, you will write a check for the application fee and enclose it with the form.

Question 8e may contain any identifying information you like. The Copyright Office will echo it back in any correspondence with you, but otherwise it has no significance.

After you have filled out the form completely, you will print out the form and sign it in ink.

But don’t close the computer window yet! The signature is the only place on the form where you may write anything, so if you notice an error you will need to fix it on screen and then print it out again.

Adobe Reader cannot save files, but you can leave the window open and print out a series of forms, changing only the fields that need to be changed. If you have Acrobat Pro (version 8 or higher, with the latest updates) you can save the PDF with all your typing, creating a template that will speed up future registrations.

After printing

The final step is gathering all the paperwork and image copies to send to the copyright office. Be sure to keep a set of copies for yourself. Not only might the package get lost in transit, but the Copyright Office itself might lose the submission. (It’s rare, but it has happened.)

Please note that the Copyright Office irradiates incoming mail, whether sent via U.S. Postal Service or a private courier. You are advised to package photographs, tapes, CDs and DVDs in boxes, rather than envelopes. Also, CDs or DVDs are safer in full-size jewel cases than slim-line cases. Check with the Copyright Office for any current updates.

We recommend sending the submission via traceable courier shipment, such as FedEx. Send the package to the address given on the Copyright Office form. The Copyright Office does not provide a confirmation of receipt; so make sure that you ask the courier for a delivery receipt.

Next: Registering Published Images