Do Not Register Copyright Until the Work is Published (or Within a Month or So of Publication).
Generally you do not register copyright in unpublished works, as the copyright protections provided by registration are designed to protect copyirghtable works at & after publication. Copyright protections attach to all qualifying works at the moment of creation, whether or not the work is registered.
Works should be registered with the copyright office within three calendar months of initial publication, in order to benefit from all the legally-available protections. Also, if someone infringes the copyright on your unpublished work, you should (read: must) register copyright before you can commence a lawsuit against the infringer.
Self-published Authors Need to Register Copyright For Themselves.
If you elect to self-publish your work, you will need to register copyright yourself. The process is fairly simple, and can be completed online (with the caveat that if you publish in print as well as ebook, you will need to send two copies of the physical work as part of the registration process).
Like traditionally-published books, self-published books should be registered with the copyright office within three calendar months of initial publication. If your book is already published, but not registered, you can register copyright any time (do it now).
Traditionally Published Authors Should Ensure the Contract Specifies Who Handles (and Pays For) Copyright Registration.
If you publish through a publisher, with a contract, you must be sure the contract states who will register the copyright and when registration will take place.
Some small publishers require the author to register his or her own copyright. Many publishers (including all “Big 5” houses) register copyright on the author’s behalf. Regardless of how registration occurs, your contract must contain specific language addressing copyright registration.
Appropriate copyright registration language in publishing contracts should include these 3 elements:
1. Who will register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright office (the author or the publisher.)
2. When the copyright will be registered. This needs to be “within three calendar months of the date of initial publication of the first edition of the Work in any form or format” in order to preserve your legal rights.
3. Who pays the registration fee and provides the copies to the Copyright Office. Normally, the one who files the registration pays the $35 fee, which is due at the time of registration, and provides the necessary copies of the work.
Printed works must be sent to the copyright office in physical form, while ebook-only publications can be submitted electronically. However, someone has to submit the work to the copyright office at the time of registration—and the contract must be clear about who has that responsibility. If the contract states that the publisher will register the copyright, then the publisher will also provide the copies. Normally, if the author handles registration, the author must provide the copies—but ask the publisher to provide you with extra copies of the novel for this purpose.
Make sure your work is promptly, and properly, registered within three calendar months after initial publication. If your work is already published, and not yet registered, register now to preserve as many rights as possible.
Registrations can be filed online at copyright.gov.