Definitions Edit

U.S. copyright law Edit

A certificate of registration is

[a]n official record issued by the U.S. Copyright Office that bears the U.S. Copyright Office seal and the signature of the Register of Copyrights.[1]

U.S. trademark law Edit

A certificate of registration is an official document from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office evidencing that a mark has been registered.

Overview (U.S. copyright law) Edit

"The certificate denotes the fact that the Office has received a valid claim to copyright (i.e., an acceptable application, deposit, and filing fee) and that the claim has been registered by the Office . The certificate shows the registration number and date that the registration is effective. Provided the claim is registered before the work is published or within five years of the date on which the work is first published, the facts on a certificate of registration and the validity of the copyright are presumed true by courts of law unless later shown to be false."[2]

At the trial of a copyright infringement claim, the plaintiff typically proves the existence of a valid copyright by introducing a certificate of registration. The certificate's probative value depends on whether the work was registered earlier or later than five years after the work was first published. A certificate of registration "made before or within five years after first publication of the work shall constitute prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright."[3] Once the certificate of registration is introduced by the plaintiff and accepted as authentic by the court, the burden shifts to the defendant to prove that the copyright is not valid or that the registration was obtained fraudulently.[4] after which the plaintiff may rebut with evidence showing that the certificate is genuine, the registration was properly obtained, or otherwise that the copyright is valid. If the work was registered more than five years after its first publication, the certificate's probative value is left to the court's discretion.[5]

The Copyright Office has an online database of certifications and can provide certified copies.[6]

Although producing a copyright certificate is the preferred method of proving validity and ownership of a valid copyright, it is not the only way to do so. The parties can stipulate to the copyrights' validity.[7] Courts may also take judicial notice of a work's copyright registration.[8] For instance, the plaintiff could introduce testimony regarding the copyright owner's creation and fixation of the work, evidence that the work is original, and that it was not a work for hire created for someone else.


  1. Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition, Glossary, at 2.
  2. Id.
  3. 17 U.S.C. §410(c); see also United States v. Taxe, 540 F.2d 961, 966 (9th Cir. 1976) (full-text); United States v. Moore, 604 F.2d 1228, 1234 (9th Cir. 1979) (full-text).
  4. See, e.g., Autoskill, Inc. v. National Educ. Support Sys., Inc., 994 F.2d 1476, 1487 (10th Cir. 1993) (full-text).
  5. See 17 U.S.C. §410(c); Religious Technology Ctr. v. Netcom On-Line Comm. Servs., Inc., 923 F. Supp. 1231, 1241 (N.D. Cal. 1995) (full-text); Koontz v. Jaffarian, 617 F. Supp. 1108, 1111-12 (E.D. Va. 1985) (full-text), aff'd, 787 F.2d 906 (4th Cir. 1986) (full-text).
  6. See Copyright Office Records; U.S. Copyright Office, Information Circular No. 6, "Obtaining Access to and Copies of Copyright Office Records and Deposits."
  7. See, e.g., United States v. Sherman, 576 F.2d 292, 296 (10th Cir. 1978) (full-text).
  8. Island Software and Computer Serv., Inc. v. Microsoft Corp., 413 F.3d 257, 261 (2d Cir. 2005) (full-text). See also United States v. Hux, 940 F.2d 314, 318 (8th Cir. 1991) (full-text) (allowing introduction of copyright certificates the morning of trial, but noting other evidence previously given to defense provided ample basis for plaintiff to establish, and defendant to challenge, existence of copyright), overruled on other grounds by United States v. Davis, 978 F.2d 415 (8th Cir. 1992) (full-text); La Resolana Architects, PA v. Clay Realtors Angel Fire, 416 F.3d 1195, 1208 (10th Cir. 2005) (full-text); see also United States v. Backer, 134 F.2d 533, 535-36 (2d Cir. 1943) (full-text) (allowing civil proceeding where Copyright Office had provided plaintiff with certificate due to error; technical irregularities in the registration process should not invalidate an otherwise proper registration).