November 06, 2012

The Importance of Copyrighting Music

What registration for copyright does is it allows you the opportunity to actually enforce your copyright. In other words, to go after people who are infringing on your copyright and to protect it from illegal copying by other people. Before that, before registration, when you have the copyright from the moment that the work was created, that's an asset that you own. You can sell it. You can license it. You can make money off of it. But in order to actually go to court over your copyright when someone else is copying it, that's when registration becomes important.

 

Announcer: Welcome to Copyright Law Radio. We bring you the best in copyright news legal advice, and information. From copyright infringement claims and defenses to threat letter issues, DMCA takedown notice letters, copyright licensing and legal analysis of the latest copyright law cases, we have a copyright attorney who can answer your copyright questions.

Matt: Hello, and welcome back to Copyright Law Radio. I'm Matt Plessner. Today we're going to have a special guest joining us today. Tara Aaron from the Aaron Sanders legal office in Nashville, Tennessee, is here to talk about the importance of copyrighting music. Tara, nice of you to join us today.

Tara: Thanks, Matt. I'm happy to be here.

Matt: Now, Tara, I, too am a musician, and I've been through the copyrighting process a couple times with my albums and even individual songs. Could you please explain to us the importance of getting music, or any other kind of original media art form, copyrighted?

Tara: Well, there are a couple of things that I want to say about that question that you just asked. The first thing that's the most important is I think that all artists need to understand, musicians and other artists as well: painters, choreographers, anyone who's kind of creating anything in that creative space, is that from the moment that you actually finish your creative project or fix it in a tangible medium - in other words, in a way that can be seen by the public later on and can be repeated and can be held in sort of a physical embodiment - as soon as that's in place, then you have copyright protection. Copyright exists from the moment that a work is created. When we talk about actually copyrighting a work, it's a little bit of semantics, but your work, in fact, as soon as the song is written, as soon as the recording is done, you've got copyright protection. 

There is a registration process and, Matt, it sounds like you've been through this before with the copyright office that gives you certain other benefits. There's just a little brief history behind that. The Library of Congress has always been interested in keeping track of the creative works of the United States citizens and wants to have a copy of everything, all the works that have been created by U. S. citizens, and by foreign citizens who are registering their works in the United States. They want to keep those copies in the Library of Congress as an archive of our history. In order to encourage people to deposit those materials with the Library of Congress, what they've done is they've set up a scheme where there are certain benefits associated with actually registering your work and actually depositing those copies.

What registration for copyright does is it allows you the opportunity to actually enforce your copyright. In other words, to go after people who are infringing on your copyright and to protect it from illegal copying by other people. Before that, before registration, when you have the copyright from the moment that the work was created, that's an asset that you own. You can sell it. You can license it. You can make money off of it. But in order to actually go to court over your copyright when someone else is copying it, that's when registration becomes important.

Matt: Well, you're saying, Tara, that going to copyright offices is more like an insurance for the bigger artists. Of course, I'm not a big name artist by any means, but just the same, say, I put my music out there. Say, for example, Gerber baby food gets a hold of it and starts using it without my permission. Is just putting copyright on the CD, or even just recording it onto a CD, enough?

Tara: I guess I want to clear up a misconception that the copyright office registration process is only available to big companies as insurance. It's really a fairly simple and a fairly inexpensive process. The registration fee at the copyright office is $35 per work. There are ways that a collection of works, like an album, for example, if you put out an entire album and you've written all the songs yourself, that can be registered under one single filing, so you can get the same protection that a big company can get for a $35 registration fee in most cases.

I think that at the point where you're ready to put your music out into the public, it's really a good idea. We really, definitely recommend it to our clients that you go ahead and register. You can register later. You can wait until the infringement happens and then get your registration, but there are a whole lot of benefits to registering early.

One of the things that happens when you register early, particularly if you register within three months of when you've actually put it out to the public, or if you get your registration before the infringement occurs, is that you can ask a court, in an infringement action, you could ask the court for what we call statutory damages. What that means is that you don't have to prove how much money you lost, which may or may not be a whole lot, depending on how popular of a work that it is. You don't have to go and prove your damages. You and the judge get to pick a number. The number starts at $700 and goes up to $30,000. In a case where there's willful infringement, where the people who did it did it on purpose and knew what they were doing, that number can go up to $150,000 per work. There's a real economic upside for the artist for not a whole lot of output on the front end, for a $35 registration fee with the copyright office. When you look at that cost/benefit analysis, in terms of what that, as you're calling it, insurance, and I think that's not a bad metaphor, it's pretty cheap.

Matt: So, Tara, if I hear that my song is being used in the hypothetical situation I was saying before, and I haven’t gone through the office copyright, the official process, and I haven't gotten that done and I haven't paid the $35, or whatever it is, to do that, would I still have a copyright case?

Tara: You can send a letter that says that you own the copyright and that you want them to stop using it, or you want them to pay for having used it. But, you don't have a case at that point because a court isn't allowed to hear a copyright case when there's no registration certificate. In order to actually be able to sue, you've got to remit your registration certificate.

Matt: Well, that's great to know. That means it's a good idea for any artist to do this. Is there any kind of creative work that is not able to be copyrighted?

Tara: Really, just about anything that you can think of that has what we call a modicum, or just the minimal amount of creativity, can be copyrighted. It doesn't even necessarily have to be what we would consider an artistic work. Software can be copyrighted, textbooks, manuals, even to a certain extent, databases, but in the art world, just about anything can. There are certain limitations. Very short slogans can't be copyrighted. Titles of works are outside the realm of copyright, and works owned by the United States government are not protected by copyright. For the most part, as a musician, any music that you write, any song that you record, those are all protected by copyright, artwork, photography, as I said, choreography, videos, movies, film, novels, all of it.

Matt: Well, thank you very much, Tara, for helping us out in clearing all this up. Artists, get your stuff copyrighted. It's worth the $35 to $45 to do so. Once again, Tara, thank you for joining us today.

Tara: You're very welcome. Thanks, Matt.

Matt: I’m Matt Plessner, and join us next time on Copyright Law Radio.

Announcer: You've been listening to Copyright Law Radio where copyright infringement, licensing, litigation and news is always the topic of the day. Whether you are a copyright attorney or a client, we are the number one resource for all your copyright questions.

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