How to Copyright a Poem - Step-by-Step Guide - Drishti Law

Imagine the moments of inspiration that led to the creation of your poem—the quiet musings, the rhythmic strokes of your pen. Now that you’re contemplating sharing your poetic work, the concern about protecting it from unwarranted replication may have crossed your mind.

Fret not, as this guide is your companion through the world of copyright law. It offers a simple, step-by-step approach to ensure your poem retains authenticity and reflects your creative spirit in the vast landscape of literary expression.

Is it Possible to Copyright a Poem?

Before diving in, let’s get some basics right.

Copyright is a legal term that refers to the exclusive rights granted to the creator or owner of an original work. This work can include literary, artistic, musical, or other creative expressions. The copyright holder has the sole authority to reproduce, distribute, perform, and display the copyrighted work.

This legal protection is designed to incentivize creators by giving them control over how their creations are used and ensuring they receive recognition and financial compensation for their intellectual efforts when applicable.

Back to the question, yes! It is possible!

Poems or other written documents come under literary work and can be protected and registered through the U.S. Copyright Office.

Do I need to Apply for a Copyright to Protect my Work?

In the U.S., when you create and physically express something, like poetry, you automatically own the rights to it without paying anything or registering it as soon as it is put in a tangible form.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) backs this up, and authors are given protection under common law throughout their lifetime and an extra 70 years.

You’re the sole copyright owner of your poetry, which gives you the Intellectual Property rights to copy, sell, and share your work, and others need prior permission to use your work.

While it is not mandatory, adding a copyright notice or a copyright symbol below your published work can help deter potential content thieves and inform the public that your poems are protected by copyright in case of copyright infringement.

What is a Copyright Notice?

A copyright notice is a brief text you can include in the footer of your poetry website or within your poetry book, whether on the covers, first page, last page, or positioned before or after the book’s main content.

The notice typically includes key information about the copyright holder and the protected work. This information may consist of the symbol © (or the word “Copyright”), the year of first publication, and the name of the copyright owner.

Why Register with the U.S. Copyright Office?

While common law grants some rights to fully protect your rights and exclusive use, it is better to officially file your work with the Copyright Office U.S.

Firstly, it establishes an official record of your ownership, serving as a deterrent against unauthorized copying and other forms of copyright infringement. Additionally, without copyright registration, you lack the legal grounds to sue for infringement and don’t have exclusive rights.

However, if you register within three months of publication or before any infringement, you can seek statutory damages and attorney fees in a legal dispute. You may be entitled to compensation without proving specific losses or the infringer’s profits. 

Preparing for the Application Process

You can either submit an online application or proceed with a written one. This is the process for an online application to copyright your poem.

1. Visit the U.S. Copyright Office Website:

Start by accessing the official U.S. Copyright Office website through your web browser.

2. Click on the Register Tab:

Once on the website, navigate to the “Register” tab to begin the copyright registration process.

3. Select Literary Works:

Under the “Register” section, choose the option tailored explicitly for Literary Works.

4. Click on the Register a Literary Work link:

Follow the provided link to initiate the registration for your literary creation.

5. Create an Account or Log in:

You’ll need to create an account if you don’t have one. For those with an existing account, log in to proceed.

6. Go to the Copyright Registration option:

After logging in, locate the “Copyright Registration” option on the website.

7. Select Register a New Claim:

Choose the “Register a New Claim” option to start the registration process for your poem.

8. Click on the Start Registration Button:

Begin the actual registration by clicking on the “Start Registration” button.

9. Fill Out the Form:

Provide the necessary information about your poem in the registration form. This may include details about the author, title, and publication.

10. Pay the Fee:

Complete the payment process for the copyright registration fee. The cost may vary depending on the type of work and the submission method.

11. Submit the required number of copies:

Follow the guidelines for submitting copies of your poem. Typically, you’ll need to submit one copy for a published work and two copies for unpublished poems. Ensure compliance with the submission requirements to complete the copyright registration process successfully.

Paper Registration Option for Copyright Application

If you prefer not to utilize the electronic copyright registration system, an alternative is to submit your registration application by mail.

Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Download and Print Form TX: Download Form TX from the official United States Copyright Office website. This form is specifically designed for registering literary works, including books and written creations.
  2. Complete the Form: Fill out the form thoroughly. The initial section of the form will guide you through the necessary information, ensuring the proper completion of the document.
  3. Mail with Payment: Send the completed form and the appropriate payment for the registration fee. Make sure to follow the provided guidelines for acceptable payment methods.
  4. Finalize Registration Application: Conclude the registration process by submitting your book, adhering to any additional requirements outlined by the U.S. Copyright Office.

Essential Documentation for Copyrighting Your Poem

Before filing a copyright application for your poem, ensure you have the following necessary documents ready:

  1. Personal Information: Provide your name, address, and nationality as proof of identity.
  2. No Objection Certificate (NOC) from Publisher: If a third party publishes your poem, obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the publisher, granting consent for your copyright application.
  3. Search Certificate from Trademark Office (if applicable): If there’s a trademark associated with your poem, procure a Search Certificate from the Trademark Office.
  4. No Objection Certificate (NOC) for Photographs: If your poem includes photographs of individuals, secure a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the individuals depicted.
  5. Power of Attorney Document: Include a Power of Attorney document if applicable to your situation.
  6. Two Copies of Your Poem: Prepare two copies of your poem for submission as part of the copyright application.
  7. Know Your Customer (KYC) Details: Provide your Know Your Customer (KYC) details as part of the application process.
  8. Applicable Fee: Ensure you have the required fee ready,
  9. No Objection Certificate (NOC) from Author (if applying on behalf): If you are using for copyright on behalf of the author, obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the author.

When is Prior Permission Unnecessary for Using My Work?

Your work can be used without seeking permission in various scenarios. Firstly, works in the public domain, such as those published before a specific date (e.g., before 1926 as of Jan. 1, 2020, and before 1927 as of Jan. 1, 2022), don’t require permission. 

Additionally, individuals are not obligated to seek permission when merely mentioning the title or author of a work, akin to citing a factual detail. For instance, stating plain facts, like listing the 50 states in the United States, doesn’t infringe on copyright.

Linking to content online from your website, blog, or publication is also permissible without permission. Lastly, if their use falls under “fair use,” they can proceed without obtaining your prior consent. However, fair use is a nuanced area, and understanding its boundaries is crucial to ensuring compliance with copyright regulations.

For thorough and expert guidance, consider consulting an Intellectual Property Attorney.

What Type of Poems Can Be Copyrighted 

You can secure copyrights for various types of poem.

This includes:

1. Original Poem:

Any poem you’ve authored, whether independently or in collaboration with another writer, is eligible for copyright protection. 

2. Collections of Shorter Works:

Suppose you’ve written and compiled a collection of shorter works into a cohesive book, such as a compilation of poems or short stories. In that case, you can obtain copyright protection for the entire collection.

3. Compilations of Pre-existing Works:

Copyright can extend to compilations of pre-existing poems, as seen in anthologies featuring a collection of poems. In such cases, the copyright covers the new content you’ve added and the selection, coordination, and arrangement of the poems within the book. However, it’s essential to recognize that the copyright does not extend to the individual poems.

For example, while you can copyright the selection and arrangement of poems by various authors in a thematic anthology, the copyright won’t include the copyright of each individual poem. Understanding these nuances is crucial for a comprehensive understanding of copyright regulations, especially when dealing with compilations of pre-existing works like poetry anthologies.

FAQs/ Common Copyright Questions

What does it Mean to Say “poems are out of copyright”?

When we refer to “poems out of copyright,” we are talking about works whose copyright protection has lapsed. Once the copyright term for a poem expires, it becomes part of the public domain, allowing unrestricted use and distribution.

How Much Does it Typically Cost to Copyright a Poem?

The cost of obtaining a copyright for a poem can vary based on factors such as length, complexity, and any additional fees.

The expenses may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

Is it Possible to Copyright a Collection of Poems as a Whole?

Yes, you can register a collection of poems as a single entity for copyright protection. If a single copyright claimant owns all the verses in a published poetry collection, they can register the entire collection on a single form with a single fee.