Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers and industry news and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

October 10, 2014

How Not to Register Copyright

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

A few years ago, I wrote a post on the difference between copyright (literally, the right to copy or reproduce, ownership of which guarantees authors control over their intellectual property) and rights (the bundle of rights contained within copyright, which authors can grant or license to others or exploit on their own).

This week, that post received a (likely spammed) anonymous comment:
Copyright protects works of original authorship such as text, artwork, photographs, sound recordings, screenplays, music, lyrics, etc. You can register more than one work under one copyright registration. Such as a collection of books, songs, photographs, etc. If you need to protect your work you will want to register it for copyright. Visit and fill out the form on the site. Your work will be registered same day! In addition, there are representatives available day and night as well as a live chat box right on the website.
There's more than a whiff of ripoff here, so I decided to accept the challenge. The link led me to Copyright Registry Online, which promises that
Your U.S. Copyright will be registered in a matter of minutes through our online form submission processing, 256 Bit Encrypted SSL Secure Server. You will receive your copyright documentation in an e-mail and by first class USPS government mail.
Well, gee, that sounds nifty (or it might if you didn't know you can easily accomplish the same thing through the US Copyright Office's eCO service). The catch? As if you couldn't guess: the fee. Copyright Registry Online wants you to pay $135 for something that you can do on your own for just $35. If you want to splurge, you can add $25 for "Priority Rush Processing" (completely meaningless, since registration isn't valid until received by the US Copyright Office, which offers no "rush" option) plus $30 for a "Membership Reward Program," which--wow!--grants you a 15% discount on "further copyright submissions."

Copyright Registry Online will also file an infringement claim (a.k.a. a DMCA takedown notice) for you. All you have to do is hand over $99.50. Never mind that you can send a DMCA notice all on your own, for free. Here's how.

I've written before about faux copyright registration services--the kind that "register" you with their own websites, and give you a seal or some other trumped-up certification that's essentially useless for any legal purpose. Unlike these fake services, with Copyright Registry Online and outfits like it you might actually wind up with a genuine copyright registration--but you'd be paying a ridiculous fee to a third party to do what you can easily accomplish yourself for a fraction of the cost.

As with any other writer-targeted scheme, these "services" rely on authors' ignorance and inexperience. Here, therefore, are some resources for learning more about copyright and related issues.

- Writer Beware's Copyright page includes info on copyright, links to resources, and debunking of common copyright myths.

- My blog post on Rights and Copyright untangles the difference between the two, and suggests how to protect yourself when seeking publication.

- The US Copyright Office's Copyright Basics circular provides a lot of information, including how to register your copyright. The USA is unusual in that it has an official registration process (most countries don't) and makes registration a pre-requisite for legal action. Once upon a time, when publishing was just print and grant territories meant something, there really was no need to register in the USA if you weren't publishing there. These days, however, publishing--and especially self-publishing--is global, so it's probably a good idea to register US copyright, even if you yourself are not US-based.

- eCO, the US Copyright Office's online registration service.

- Schedule of fees for registration with the US Copyright Office.

- Copyright registration is important for published work. However (and contrary to much popular belief), there's no need to register copyright for unpublished work. Despite writers' fears (and recent alarming plagiarism incidents), theft is highly unlikely at the submission stage. It's not until a work is exposed to a wide audience (i.e., published) that you need to worry.

- A helpful explanation of the DMCA takedown notice, and how to file one.

- Sample DMCA takedown notices, from the Plagiarism Today blog.

- From the Popehat blog, things to consider before sending a DMCA notice (often, contacting the infringer directly works just as well).


C.M. Albrecht said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DrMcCoy said...

Looking at the WHOIS is also interesting: registered by "ad edge marketing". Searching for them leads to more scam sites, like, and

adan said...

Great info. I always use the LOC's website to register on my work. $35, but a bargain compared to either, these type of rip-off services, or not having registered your work and needing legal representation.

Works can still be bundled, but I noticed LOC has changed their submission process for that, and haven't had the chance to check that out yet.

Great info, Victoria, thank you!

G. B. Miller said...

I just had a relatively pleasant experience dealing with the Copyright Office a couple of weeks ago.

Seems that I had used the wrong form to register a short story trilogy about a year ago and didn't realize it until I was searching their database for a copyright on my commercial debut (none there, but that has since been rectified).

After sending an e-mail asking about it, they were able to deduce the problem, supply step-by-step guidelines to fix and this past weekend, I received my copyright notice.

And for those who don't know, the US Copyright Office tells you up front how long the wait is between online (8 months) vs. mail in (13 months).

David said...

Good advice as always Victoria ... but isn't the position different in the UK? Here you don't need to register any copyright with anyone - you own your own work end of. I don't think there is even a registry. So this post is related only to work published in the USA.

Victoria Strauss said...


You're correct. Most countries (including the UK) have no official registration process. The USA is unusual in that regard (and, among countries that do have a registration process, the USA is also unusual in that you can't bring legal action unless you've previously registered).

However, as I said in my post, I think that even non-US writers need to consider US registration, if their work is going to be available for purchase in the USA. Traditional publishing contracts do still make a distinction between various territories (US, UK, etc.) but with many small presses, and pretty much all self-publishing platforms, you'll be publishing globally by default. So US copyright registration is certainly not a requirement--but it is something to consider. IMO, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for saving me the $35.00 and the spam and frustration of believing in another type of too good to be true! Thanks and God bless

Disperser said...

Just want to say thanks . . . not publishing yet, but this will be a good reference if I ever do.

Helen Sedwick said...

Writers (and others) should also avoid sites which offer to obtain a Federal Employer ID Number (EIN) for a fee. (If you go to the IRS site, it's free.) These scam sites collect youy name, birthday, Social Security Number, mother's maiden name, etc. All the info for stealing identities on top of a $150 fee. Also go to

steeleweed said...

My mother wrote two books (nonfiction) and an aunt two small volumes of memoir, all still under copyright. I inherited the estates and want to republish these.

Do I need to re-register or otherwise notify the Copyright Office?

Victoria Strauss said...


If a books is re-published exactly as originally written, with no changes, re-registration isn't necessary. In your case, though, the original authors are deceased, and you're their literary executor, which may change things. I spent some time searching for the answer to your question online, and couldn't find anything that exactly addressed the issue of re-registration. You might try contacting the US Copyright Office via its contact form--I've been told that they do answer questions:

Sorry--I wish I could be more helpful.

Iola Goulton said...

A timely post. I'm currently in contact with an author planning to publish through a vanity press. He's already registered his copyright (for $35), but they want to reregister it (for $199).

Obviously this is a typical vanity press money-making scam, but is it even necessary? Yes, there will be some editing changes to the book between versions, but surely that's not sufficient reason to reregister.

Victoria Strauss said...


No, it's not necessary for minor edits and changes--the copyright he's already registered is fine.

Anonymous said...

I was scammed by this company! I'd never done a copyright before, and I was under the impression it would only cost me $35, so I assumed the price on the website was a typo. Fortunately, I didn't have enough money in my bank account at the time to process the fee and my credit card was declined. Twice I asked them why it cost so much to copyright my work. Both times they refused to get back to me.

They know they're taking advantage of people and what they're doing is wrong. That's the definition of a scam in my book.

Anonymous said...

I just found out I've been hit for $165.00. I've got nothing to show for it besides my feeling of inadequacy for having been duped. Well, I shall work on stopping these thieves from screwing other foolish folks.

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