How to Copyright a Saying

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Registering with the United States Copyright Office gives you legal protection against unauthorized use and duplication, but you can't copyright a saying on its own. However, you can register a body of work containing the saying for legal protection. For example, if the saying is part of a story, you can copyright the story containing the phrase. Your saying must not be a phrase used in everyday conversation. The U.S. Copyright Office processes copyright registration online at its official website.

Complete a literary work containing the phrase if necessary. The work can be short, but must be original. Give the work a title.

Prepare the work for electronic submission. The work must be in a text format accepted by the U.S. Copyright Office, such as a Microsoft Word document. View the acceptable file types list at the official website of the U.S. Copyright Office.

Register for an account at the official website of the United States Copyright Office. You need your name and a valid email address; you'll be asked to create a password and username.

Login after creating the account. Choose "New Registration" under "Copyright Services."

Complete the application process first. You must select a category for your work — literary, for example — and follow the onscreen directions. You need the work's name, the year it was finished, the date and country of its first publication -- if applicable -- and your personal information as the author/artist, including name and address.

Name the claimant on the "Claimant" section of the application. A claimant holds the copyright. You need the claimant's name and address. You, as the author, are the primary claimant, but you can add other parties.

Complete the preexisting work section if it applies to your work. You must supply registration information for other copyrighted material that appears in your work. Designate an agent who is allowed to use your work if you wish to do so.

Enter correspondent information. You need the name, address and contact information of the person you want the office to call with questions about your application.

Enter the name and address of the person you want to receive the copyright certificate. Decide if you need special handling. Special handling is a faster processing time, but the service costs $760 at the time of publication and delivery by a specific date isn't guaranteed.

Complete the certification. You are certifying you have the right to file the copyright. Review the submission information before continuing.

Use the "Checkout" option to pay. You can pay by bank account transfer or credit or debit card. The fee is $35 for a basic online registration at the time of publication.

Upload a copy of the work. Follow the onscreen instructions. Once the work is uploaded, your registration is finished and you can log out of the account.

Tips

  • You can send a paper copy of the work instead of uploading by choosing the "Deposit by Mail" option on the upload screen. Follow the onscreen instructions to create a mail-in shipping label. You must mail the work to the address shown at the bottom of the label within 30 days of completing the registration online.

    You can register offline using paper forms instead. The fee for mail-in registration is $65 at the time of publication. The forms are available on the U.S. Copyright Office's website. Follow the instructions printed on the form.

Warnings

  • You can't copyright a work with a phrase that has already been copyrighted. Use the U.S. Copyright Office's online search system to check before registering if you're not sure of copyright status.

    If you want to protect a saying for commercial use on products or advertisements — a slogan — you need to trademark the saying by registering with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

References

Resources

About the Author

Anna Assad began writing professionally in 1999 and has published several legal articles for various websites. She has an extensive real estate and criminal legal background. She also tutored in English for nearly eight years, attended Buffalo State College for paralegal studies and accounting, and minored in English literature, receiving a Bachelor of Arts.

Photo Credits

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