International Copyright Basics: Do I Have to be a U.S. Citizen to Register a Copyright?

In most cases, the answer is no. U.S. citizenship is not a prerequisite for registering a copyright in the United States.

Put simply, no.

U.S. citizenship is not a prerequisite for registering a copyright in the United States.

In this way, permanent residents (green card holders), individuals in the country on a visa, and all other foreign nationals can register copyrights in the country, provided they meet certain requirements.

In this article, we’ll outline the basics of this process, as well as what you need to know about registering a copyright as a non-citizen.

Note, however, that only an attorney can give you a full view of the strength of your copyright claim.

International Copyright Basics: What You Need to Know

Man holding up a piece of paper with the copyright symbol on it international copyright concept
Man holding up a piece of paper with the copyright symbol on it international copyright concept

There are a few key points you need to know if you’re considering whether to register a copyright as a foreign national:

  1. Any work that is protected by U.S. copyright law can be registered in the United States. This includes works of foreign origin or works by non-citizens, both published and unpublished, provided they meet the basic requirements laid out in 17 U.S.C. § 104. Subject Matter of Copyright: National Origin.
  2. Works that were first published in the United States, or that were first published in a country that has a copyright treaty with the United States, are protected by U.S. copyright law, and may be registered with the Copyright Office.
  3. Works that are unpublished are subject to copyright protections under U.S. copyright law, without regard to the nationality or domicile of the author. As such, the author or creator can choose to publish this work in a way that provides U.S. copyright protections, thus leading to the possibility of copyright registration.

So, to answer the key question of this article, no, you don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to register a copyrightable work in the United States.

Instead, your work just has to meet the basic requirements for copyright protection as outlined in U.S. copyright law.

How to Register a Copyright if You Don’t Have U.S. Citizenship

Provided you meet the requirements listed above, registering a copyright in the United States is relatively simple.

Put simply, the general process goes as follows:

  1. The moment you create a “finished” version of your creative work you immediately gain copyright protections for that work. These protections are automatic, and do not require registration with the U.S. copyright office.
  2. In order to enforce your copyright (such as through a copyright infringement lawsuit), you need to register your copyright with the copyright office. Generally, you should do so within three months of publishing your work (or within three months of finding out that someone is infringing on your work).
  3. Actually registering your copyright is rather simple, and (generally) just involves submitting the right form to the copyright office alongside some copies of your creative work. You’ll also have to pay a small filing fee.
  4. If the copyright office approves your application, you’ll receive your copyright certificate in the mail roughly three to four months later.

Basically, non-U.S. citizen applicants use the same application process as American citizens or residents.

Additionally, make sure to pay close attention to the deposit requirements, as they vary based on where your work was first published.

For example, if your work was first published in the United States, you may need to submit two copies of its best edition along with your application and fee.

If your work was first published outside of the United States, you will only need to present one copy for your deposit.

If you’re registering an unpublished foreign work, you only need to submit one complete copy of the work that contains all of the authorship claimed on the application.

To read more on the specifics of the U.S. Copyright office’s deposit requirements for foreign works, read Compendium (Third) § 1503.

If you have any further questions about the process there are numerous other resources available.

For example, we’ve written a full guide on how you can register a new copyright elsewhere on our Knowledge Base.

There are also several other resources on the U.S. Copyright Office website that can help you get started with the process.

International Copyright FAQ

FAQ speech bubble is isolated on yellow background.

Below, we’ll answer a few common questions that applicants often have about registering their work with the U.S. copyright office.

Note, however, that only an attorney who has reviewed all of the facts of your case can give you practical advice on what your next steps should be.

The information we relate below is simply some common information about the process, and not legal advice.

Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to register a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office?

As we stated above, you do not have to be a U.S. citizen to register with the Copyright Office.

Put simply, if your work meets the requirements to be protected by U.S. copyright law, your work also meets all the requirements for registration with the Copyright Office.

In almost all cases, citizenship is a non-issue.

What happens if I’ve already published my work outside the United States?

In cases where you’ve already published your work somewhere outside the United States, the only real change is that you may have to follow different rules for submitting the best edition of your work to the Library of Congress.

Problems only occur when the work was first published in a country that does not have a treaty or other agreement with the United States regarding international copyright laws.

In such a case, re-publishing the work in a country that does have such a treaty (or in the U.S. itself) will usually solve the issue.

However, it’s still wise to discuss your case with an attorney in such a situation to ensure such a measure will be effective in your particular situation.

Conclusion

Copyright concept tearing a page with copyright written below it.

Despite there being no such thing as an international copyright protection, the United States offers protection to foreign works due to a variety of treaties and agreements with other countries.

Following the guidelines established for member countries, the United States is obligated to protect any work protected by the U.S. copyright office, even ones of foreign origin or those created by those without U.S. citizenship.

If you’re interested in registering a copyright for your creative work, you should speak with an attorney about your options.

International copyright law can be complicated, and only an attorney who has reviewed your entire case can give you an accurate representation of what you should do in your specific situation.

Relevant Laws and Publications:

Further Reading:

Other Resources:

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