How to Do a Copyright Search

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What Is a Copyright Search?

When an individual is planning to create a piece of art like a song, book, or painting, a copyright search can be completed to find out if the intellectual property they are producing is original. If a person’s work duplicates an already existing tangible form of expression, it is called infringement, and the offender could be legally liable for any damages the original artist suffers.

Copyright for art is usually established when the work of art is created. If artists want to further ensure that their work is protected, they can register their creation to establish ironclad copyright protection.

The most extensive database for copyright searches in America is the Library for Congress Copyright Office. This copyright public records catalog is available to everyone and can be accessed online or in-person in Washington DC. The catalog includes information like who owns rights to specific intellectual property, and what works are protected and what works available for public use.

Copyright Registration Explained

Even though a work of art is automatically copyrighted upon creation, an artist may go one step forward and register their work. Copyright registration provides an artist with exclusive rights to their work which is considered intellectual property. If anyone else attempts to duplicate, alter, or distribute the original work, the artist who owns the rights can take legal action to protect their interests.

Work that is protected under copyright registration can include:

  • Paintings
  • Photographs
  • Illustrations
  • Musical compositions
  • Sound recordings
  • Computer programs
  • Books
  • Poems
  • Movies
  • Architecture
  • Blogs

Any of these creations can be registered for copyright protection.

It is common for people to confuse material that can be copyrighted with material that requires a trademark . Trademarks are for designs that include titles, names, phrases, slogans, or symbols. Trademarks are not automatically protected like copyrighted work, and a trademark must be applied for and approved.

For art to be automatically protected under copyright laws, the Supreme Court explains that the work must be creative and have a “spark” and “modicum” of creativity.

One aspect of copyrights that most people don’t understand is that virtually everyone is a copyright owner in some form or another. Whether you register your work or not, the instant you create an original tangible form of expression, you own the exclusive rights to that work. Under United States copyright laws, exclusive rights include:

  • The right to reproduce your own work
  • The right to distribute your work by sale, lease, or lending
  • You can publicly perform the work
  • You can display your work
  • You can create more works based on the original
  • You have the power to authorize others to share these rights

Here is an article for more information about copyright registration.

How To Do a Copyright Search?

Conducting a copyright search can be complicated if you don’t know where to look or how to run an accurate search. The best place to start your copyright search is at the Library for Congress Copyright Office website. This website contains a searchable copyright database.

Follow these steps to do a copyright search:

  1. Go to Copyright.gov: Begin your search by navigating to copyright.gov . On the homepage, you will find the option to search copyright records.
  2. Access the database: Click the link that says, “Search our Copyright Public Records Catalog online here.”
  3. Run a basic search: The link will bring you to the catalog, where you can run a basic search. Type what you are looking for in the empty field “search for”.
  4. Choose a method to search by: After typing in your search, choose from the dropdown list of search methods:
  • Title
  • Name
  • Keyword
  • Registration number
  • Document number
  • Command keyword
  1. Run the search: Click “run search” to populate search results. You can choose how many results will show on the page and how the results are sorted.

If your basic search isn’t returning the desired results, you can narrow your search parameters under the “Other Search Options” tab.

If you are still having difficulties running your copyright search, it is highly recommended you consult with a copyright lawyer who can assist you in searching the copyright database.

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Copyright Search Tips

Completing a copyright search using the public records database can be confusing. Check out these tips to make your search more manageable and productive.

Tip #1: Figure out what you are searching for

Before you begin your search, you should first determine exactly what you’re looking for. Search methods will change depending on what you are trying to find. Copyright records from 1978 to present are recorded in the database on the Copyright Office website. If you look for art previous to 1978, it will be more complicated, and you will have to use other search options.

Tip #2: Copyrighted works before 1978

If the work you are looking for was created before 1978, don’t waste your time with an online search. Only works created after 1978 are in the Copyright Office database. For works before 1978, you will have to visit the Library of Congress in Washington DC, where card catalogs can be accessed in person. If traveling to Washington DC isn’t feasible, you can check with your local library for a copy of the Catalog of Copyright Entries. You can also hire a search service like the one offered by the US Copyright office.

Tip #3: Keep your search narrow

For the best results, first determine if you are trying to look up the actual owner of the work or just trying to see if the work has entered the public domain. If the work were published before 1923, it would automatically be in the public domain. Work published between 1923 and 1963 is protected for 28 years if the copyright is not renewed. If the copyright is renewed, the work is protected for 95 years. Any work published after 1923 is most likely copyrighted.

Tip #4: Hire a professional to help

Depending on the complexity of your search, and how much time you have available to dedicate to your search, you may want to hire an intellectual property lawyer or a copyright lawyer to assist you. Even though you will have to pay for legal services, it will save you valuable time.

How Much Does a Copyright Search Cost?

There is no fee to run a copyright search. The Library for Congress Copyright Office website is free for anyone to access and use for search purposes. For those having trouble with a search, help is available, but hiring someone to conduct your search will usually incur a fee.

The US Copyright Office offers a search service. They charge $200 per hour with a two-hour minimum. The search service will search its public records and provide a report of findings based on your request.

Individuals who need to conduct a copyright search can also hire a copyright lawyer to assist them with a copyright search. Attorney fees will vary for copyright searches and work depending on where you live, the complexity of the search, and the attorney’s experience.

Copyright searches are free; copyright registrations, however, are not.

Click here to check out fees associated with registering creative work for copyright protection.

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