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I understand that putting "Untitled"* in the Title field means people would not be able to search your copyrighted material by name. And I understand why it is not recommended.

But does it mean the copyrighted material will not be protected ?

  • "Untitled" refers to anything but the original published title and can be as generic as "Title #1"

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Putting "untitled" in a copyright registration does not change the legal effect of a copyright registration in any way. Indeed, lots of works protected by copyright legitimately don't have any title.

Copyright registration also doesn't have much of a legal effect. Copyrights arise as a matter of law without any registration or legal action, and the expiration of a copyright doesn't dependent upon when it is registered either.

What does copyright registration do? As explained by Copyright Alliance:

Although registration of a copyrighted work is not necessary for the work to be protected there are numerous benefits to registering. These benefits include:

  • Bringing an Infringement Action: Registration is a necessary prerequisite for U.S. copyright owners to bringing a copyright infringement suit in federal court. (Foreign copyright owners need not register their U.S. copyrights before filing suit).

This has nothing to do with the title of the work.

  • Evidence of Validity: If a registration application is submitted to the Copyright Office within five years after first publication of the work, the certificate of registration issued by the Office will constitute prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the registration certificate. This could be important if a copyright infringement case is brought involving the work.

This is nice, but not necessary, because the relevant facts are usually easy to prove anyway. A vague title of the work may make it harder to show that the work referred to in the certificate of registration and the one that forms the basis of an infringement action are the same work, but this is easily overcome with an affidavit from someone with personal knowledge of the facts.

The main time that this is important is when there is a dispute over the authorship of a work and two different people claim to be authors of the same work. The first person to register the work is given a procedural edge in proving authorship, although this isn't conclusive proof and can be overcome with contrary evidence.

Giving that work a title that appears on the fact of the work at the time of registration rather than calling it "untitled" would be more persuasive than an affidavit to prove that the registration corresponds to the work in question, but comparing the work deposited as a mandatory deposit which is made with the copyright registration number with the allegedly infringed upon work would be more effective at proving this fact anyway.

  • Statutory Damages and Attorneys’ Fees: To be eligibility for the awarding of statutory damages and attorneys’ fees in a copyright infringement case the copyrighted work must be registered before infringement commences, with limited exceptions. Actual damages in an infringement suit may be either nominal or difficult to prove so having the ability to claim statutory damages in extremely significant and may even determine whether it makes sense to sue in the first place.

Again, an affidavit or a comparison of the alleged work and the mandatorily deposited copy under the copyright registration number can show that the registered work and the work that is the basis of a lawsuit are the same, so the title of the work is basically irrelevant.

  • Satisfies Deposit Requirements: Irrespective of copyright protection and subject to some exceptions, the Copyright Act requires that copyright owners deposit two copies their works with the Library of Congress within three months after the works have been published. This is commonly referred to as mandatory deposit. (The penalty for not doing this is a fine that can only be imposed after the Copyright Office makes a formal demand for the copies on behalf of the Library). When a registration application is submitted to the Copyright Office the copies of works submitted with that application usually satisfy the Library’s independent deposit requirements.

If the work is untitled, it may be harder to tell if the mandatory deposit requirement has been complied with or not, but simple comparison of the registered work with other works deposited pursuant to mandatory deposit requirements with the Library of Congress from the same author can easily resolve any disputes.

  • Creates a Public Record: Registration is considered notice to the world of your copyright claim. Among other things, this helps people who wish to license your work to ascertain the status of your work and to find you.

An untitled work is harder to find in the public records. But, this isn't a legal right. It is essentially just a marketing tool. And, someone can search the copyright registration records by author name and date in any case. As long as the copyright holding author is known, a person who wants to license you work can contact you without using the registry to figure out how to do so.

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  • What if instead of the vague "Untitled", the title would be something that requires an extra step to decipher, like the calculated Hash of the actual Title. Would that also bring the Title registration to being more persuasive than an affidavit ? Apr 4 at 8:55
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    @physicsnewbie Any persuasive character of a title would flow from the application title being prominently displayed on the work being registered. It has nothing to do with the nature of the title itself.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 4 at 21:18

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