The short answer is “not much.” A more useful answer: $35-$55 if you do it yourself or $250-$500 if you hire an attorney to help you.
The fee at the U.S. Copyright Office is $ 55 for most applications, or $ 35 if your application (1) has one author, and (2) the author is also the owner, and (3) you are just registering a single work (not a collection of photos), and (4) it was not a work made for hire.
Here are more specifics.
Anything you create is protected by copyright as soon as it exists in a tangible form, whether it’s a book, article, photo, sculpture, musical composition or dance (among other types of creative works). But under United States law, you can’t enforce your copyright unless you have it registered. It also helps people take you more seriously if you’re telling them that your work is copyrighted. I’ve written more about this elsewhere.
Do-It-Yourself Copyright Registration
So once you’re ready to register your copyright, all you need to do is
- Create an online account at www.copyright.gov (no charge for that).
- Log in and start a new “claim” (a new copyright application).
- Fill in the online form (between about 8 and 12 screens of information).
- Pay the government filing fee of $35 or $ 55 with your credit card.
- Upload a copy of your copyrighted work (many formats are supported; you can also mail it in if you really prefer that method).
Your copyright registration certificate will arrive in the mail after 2-18 months and will be dated as of the date you submitted your application. (Yes, usually takes a really long time, and it is completely unpredictable. Plus, there is no easy online system to check the status of your application as you can with a trademark application.)
Of course, you can have the registration issued in about a week if you are trying to sue someone or have another good reason, but that will cost about $ 800 extra.
Using A Lawyer
What if you want some help?
An experienced intellectual property lawyer will typically charge from $250 to $500 to prepare and file your application to register a copyright. It’s not a difficult process, but there are questions on the application form that will require some research, so if you haven’t done it before, it can be very helpful to have professional assistance. If you do it wrong, you may need to file more forms to correct your registration, or you may have trouble enforcing your copyright if someone infringes it.
Many lawyers will prepare a copyright application on a flat-fee basis (as I do); others will charge based on the time required, but most should still be willing to give you an estimate of the total cost. Be prepared to give your lawyer the documents and other information that he or she requests in order to efficiently prepare the application form.