Sunday, January 22, 2012

Common Copyright Problems: You Must Register Your Copyright!!

Today, i thought a bit about my resolutions for the New Year.  So I went to church, I went to the gym, I watched some football.  But one of my resolutions just started nagging at me just now-- it was the one about doing a better job posting on my blog.  And so, while I'm watching the Giants play the Niners, I want to work toward finishing up copyright law by briefly discussing a few of the more common problems experienced by ordinary folks. 

For you artists and authors out there, you must register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office!!! Many many times I am contacted by folks who believe that their artistic works have been copied.  There are things you can do in such situations, but, as I wrote in an earlier blog post,  it is essentially impossible to rely upon the courts to protect your copyright in the absence of registration with the Copyright Office.  U.S. copyright owners must register their copyrights before they can bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement.  And if a work is not registered before the alleged infringement, or within a short period of time following publication of the work, the owner of the copyright cannot receive what are known as "statutory damages" and won't be eligible to receive attorney fees.  

You see, if you sue someone for copyright infringement, you can collect damages based on your lost profits or the infringers unlawful monetary gain.   One big problem with copyright protection is that many instances of copyright infringement do not have any significant economic value.  For example, if I photocopy a book instead of buying a copy, the actual damages might be the cost of the book, clearly not enough to file a lawsuit.  So owners of copyrights might be discouraged from pursuing lawsuits against infringers, because lawsuits are expensive.  The US Congress fixed this by including the possibility of copyright owners receiving their legal fees and a set statutory amount of up to $150,000 for willful infringement.  The only criteria for being eligible for this possible award ( instead of the lower actual economic damages) is that the work must be registered with the United States Copyright Office before the infringement occurs.  Needless to say, the possibility of a larger damages award may make a big difference in determining whether a person can afford to file a lawsuit, and can result in the copyright owner having more leverage in any settlement negotiations. 

Lots of folks seem to think their work is protected if it s registered with one of the performing rights organizations, like ASCAP, or if it s registered with a commercial site like  You need to know that this is not the case.  While these other types of registration may have their place, they are not a substitute for registration with the Copyright Office.  So it's very important that your work is registered with the US Copyright Office.  

Another common problem experienced by the public at large is the possibility of being sued for the unauthorized downloading of video or audio content from the Internet.  We'll talk a bit about this situation next time.  If you have any questions about copyright law, email us or post them on the blog.  The email is