Sunday, May 17, 2009

Q and A: The Poor Man's Copyright

Poor Man's Copyright

Q: My friend and I have a bet. I say mailing myself a copy of my songs is a valid copyright. He says it's not. Who's right?

A: Start writing the check; your friend is right, and mailing yourself a copy of your songs is not valid legal protection against copyright infringement.

Although technically a "copyright" takes place the moment the songs are created, mailing your songs to yourself unopened--sometimes called a "poor man's copyright"--provides absolutely no protection in the event of a lawsuit. In fact, according to several entertainment attorneys we spoke with, if you have not registered your copyright with the US Copyright Office, no court will hear your case. So, in order to protect and enforce your copyright if someone tries to steal your songs or sue you for infringement, you must register your songs. In the Court's eyes, if you haven't bothered to register the copyright with the US Copyright Office it's just not worth their time.

Forms and information are available at the Copyright Office. (We especially like Circulars 50 and 56.)

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HatHead said...

The US system is nasty - can't afford to pay the government for something that is technically already yours, then someone can steal - this is normally defined as extortion. Cheers!

Von Johin said...

Well, this is nearly completely correct, DDT. You can sur and are entitled to your day in court without a valid registration at all, HOWEVER, you may only collect damages back to the date of registration with the US Copyright office. So, you are protected from day one, and whatever you can do to establish a DATE of creation is helpful in establishing a date, but no matter what, the date that COUNTS when establishing the date from which damages for infringement will be paid is the one registered with the US Copyright Office. So no, it doesn't mean somebody is free to steal it because you didn't register it, it means that the thief can only be made to pay damages going back to the date it was registered with the copyright office,

How do I know these things for certain? I've published over 350 books and videos for the music and audio industry including leading texts on music publishing and copyright law.