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Imagine the following sequence of events . . .

You finish a book and submit a copyright application on November 1, 2023. You publish the book and begin selling it on November 15. Someone pirates the book online on November 20. The Copyright office approves your copyright application on January 10, 2024. You discover the book pirate on Feb. 10, 2024.

If you decide to sue, would you have the full weight of your official copyright status behind you, even though 1) the book was pirated before the copyright application was approved and 2) you didn't discover the piracy until a couple months later?

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  • Which jurisdiction?
    – TripeHound
    Dec 3, 2023 at 11:20
  • U.S., Washington State
    – Paredon
    Dec 3, 2023 at 12:44
  • No, this is not the same question. Note the comment about piracy.
    – Paredon
    Dec 3, 2023 at 12:49

2 Answers 2

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Although you have to wait for the registration to be approved before you can bring a suit in federal court, it looks like you would get the full benefits of registration.

Once the registration is approved, the effective date of copyright registration is not the date of approval but

the day on which an application, deposit, and fee, which are later determined by the Register of Copyrights or by a court of competent jurisdiction to be acceptable for registration, have all been received in the Copyright Office.

(17 U.S. Code § 410. Registration of claim and issuance of certificate)

This date appears on the certificate.

In the scenario described in the question, the application was submitted on November 1, 2023 and so the effective date of registration will presumably be earlier than three months after publication or 1 month after the copyright owner has learned of the infringement. It is therefore possible to pursue statutory damages and attorney's fees.

In any action under this title, other than an action brought for a violation of the rights of the author under section 106A(a), an action for infringement of the copyright of a work that has been preregistered under section 408(f) before the commencement of the infringement and that has an effective date of registration not later than the earlier of 3 months after the first publication of the work or 1 month after the copyright owner has learned of the infringement, or an action instituted under section 411(c), no award of statutory damages or of attorney’s fees, as provided by sections 504 and 505, shall be made for—

(1) any infringement of copyright in an unpublished work commenced before the effective date of its registration; or

(2) any infringement of copyright commenced after first publication of the work and before the effective date of its registration, unless such registration is made within three months after the first publication of the work.

(17 U.S. Code § 412 - Registration as prerequisite to certain remedies for infringement)

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I believe Wikipedia covers this scenario:

In all countries where the Berne Convention standards apply, copyright is automatic, and need not be obtained through official registration with any government office. Once an idea has been reduced to tangible form, for example by securing it in a fixed medium (such as a drawing, sheet music, photograph, a videotape, or a computer file), the copyright holder is entitled to enforce their exclusive rights

Therefore your copyright would apply from the first of November when you completed the work - when registration is applied for or granted is irrelevant. Some trouble could arise from demonstrating that you completed the work before the pirate (i.e. that you are the original author and not the pirate), but the fact you published first would go a lot of the way to doing that.

There however is a small subtlety to the situation - continuing from Wikipedia:

However, while registration is not needed to exercise copyright, in jurisdictions where the laws provide for registration, it serves as prima facie evidence of a valid copyright and enables the copyright holder to seek statutory damages and attorney's fees. (In the US, registering after an infringement only enables one to receive actual damages and lost profits.)

So registering your work still has value. I'm not sure how the issue of statutory damages and attorney's fees would be handled in your scenario.

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  • Yes, that's what I'm trying to determine - will I enjoy all the benefits of having an official copyright registration if my book is both published and pirated before the application process is completed.
    – Paredon
    Dec 3, 2023 at 12:48

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