Is Copyright Registration Necessary? – (Part 2)

In Part 1, we answered the question, “Is copyright registration necessary for copyright protection”? The answer is a simple “no”. Copyright protection exists as soon as the song is put into any tangible form. However, there are advantages to registering your copyrights when it comes to defending your work, which I’ll address in this Part 2.

Before I dive into that, I want to clarify something. The act of “registering a copyright” (on Form PA) is different from “recording a document” related to a copyright. The former is used to register the actual copyright, showing the authors and then current owners. The latter is simply to put in public record a document related to the copyright, which can be a transfer of ownership of the copyright, an assignment, a termination of transfer, or other types of actions. A chain of title in a copyright is found through a string of recorded documents, and not through the registration of the copyright. In other words, each time a copyright is assigned or sold, a new document may be recorded to substantiate the action. But under normal situations, a Registration of Copyright is necessary only one time, which is what we’re talking about here.

Now, on to the advantages of registering a copyright, in which I believe there are two primary areas. The first is the act of making the copyright available in public searches. While the copyright office may not be the most commonly used site people use to search for copyrights, it is arguably the safest for accurate information and the most recognized. So to make a public record of a copyright, and provide a way for others to find the copyright and the owner’s information, you may want to register it. But the real advantages to registering a copyright are in cases where you need to defend the copyright against any kind of misuse or infringement, which is the second primary area that I’ll break that down into three parts.

First, a registration becomes what is called “prima facie evidence”, which means evidence that is legally sufficient to establish a case or fact. In the Copyright Act, Section 410(c) reads, “In any judicial proceedings, the certificate of a registration made before or within five years after first publication of the work shall constitute prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.” Other techniques in verifying your copyright, such as mailing it to yourself, or keeping recorded copies with dates, or other means of collecting witnesses to the fact that this was your copyright as of a certain date, can still be fine methods of eventually proving the facts. However, none may be as effective, or at least as easily proven and acceptable in the courts, as “prima facie evidence”.

Second, in the event your copyright is infringed, you cannot take the case to court until the copyright has been registered [Section 411(a)]. If you are aware of an infringement, you may immediately register the copyright. The valid date of registration will be the date stamped by the Copyright Office that your registration was received, not when the document was finally processed, which could be months later, (as long as the registration was ultimately acceptable by the Copyright Office).

Third, if you prevail in the infringement case, you are eligible, in most cases, to be awarded statutory damages and costs and attorney’s fees only if the song has been registered, and only for the infringements which took place after the effective date of registration, unless you happened to register the song within 3 months of the first publication [Section 412]. (By the way, statutory damages can be as high as $150,000.00 per infringement for “willful” infringements).

So there are advantages to registering the copyright in the U.S. Copyright Office. Are those advantages worthy of spending $35.00 – $65.00 per registration for all songs? That answer is dependent on your frame of mind and approach to these kinds of legal issues. I would say it is not a great danger to not register all your copyrights, but there is certainly a level of risk associated. I do know that most publishers and successful songwriters only register their copyrights once they are published, if at all. And if your initial decision is to not register the copyright, it can always be done at a later date. You just might miss some damages and awards for wrongful uses prior to that registration, but how likely is it that something like this might occur with your songs? Much like buying insurance, you should weigh the cost of security with the likelihood of an unpleasant event occurring. But now, at least you should be making a more intelligent choice based on your better understanding of the complex copyright law, and the risks and benefits associated with registering your copyrights or not.

Are there other advantages to copyright registrations? There are, related to what is called “compulsory licensed uses” and collecting certain royalties, which we’ll address in Part 3 next week.

John Barker
ClearBox Rights, LLC

“If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research.” – Wilson Mizner, US playwright, author (1876-1933)

© 2012 John Barker. All rights reserved. Information contained in this Blog is of a general nature and should not be considered or relied on as legal advice. Any reader of this Blog who has legal matters related to information addressed in this Blog should consult with an experienced attorney. This Blog contains no warranties or representations that the information contained in it is true or accurate in all respects or that it is the most current or complete information on the subject matter covered. John Barker is President and CEO of ClearBox Rights, LLC.

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