A creator's work is copyrighted the moment it is fixed in tangible form without taking any steps, according to the U.S. Copyright Office. However, registering the work with the Copyright Office requires the creator to send in a complete application with copies of the work and a processing fee.
The U.S. Copyright Office accepts copyright registration applications using printed forms or the online eCO Registration System. The basic steps include completing the application, attaching the required number of copies, tendering the correct processing fee and submitting the package to the Copyright Office, as explained by the U.S. Library of Congress. The type of work, such as written or photographic, determines the application form to be used and the number of copies that must be attached. The fee differs based on whether the application is submitted electronically or via mail.
Although a creator automatically gains the right to control and profit from a work as soon as the work is fixed in tangible form, copyright registration with the federal government under the U.S. Copyright Act provides special benefits to the copyright owner. These include a public record of the copyright, the ability to sue under the federal law for infringement, and the possibility of being awarded statutory damages without having to prove actual damages, as explained by Harvard University's Digital Media Law Project.