Tag Archives: u.s. copyright office

5 Take-Aways From The Music Copyright Report

(Originally published February 16, 2015 in Nekst.biz)

In early 2013, the House Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Congress began a comprehensive review of the U.S. copyright laws to determine if the current laws are still relevant and working in the digital age. The results of the music copyright study are presented in the Office’s 245 page report which was published on Feb. 5.

One very profound, but not surprising, statement the Copyright Office made in the report is this. “The Office’s review of the issues has confirmed one overarching point: that our music licensing system is in need of repair.” I would add to that; great need of repair.

I’ve read the full report. While it was not a page turner like Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”, it held my interest. This is real life, current, and very relevant to all of us in the music industry. It will likely impact our livelihood, and the future of music in the U.S.

(You can read the entire article at http://nekst.biz/5-take-aways-music-copyright-report/)

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Is Copyright Registration Necessary? (Part 3)

It is possible you could be missing certain royalties for your songs because you haven’t registered the copyright in the U.S. Copyright Office.

In Part 1, I 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. In Part 2, I went over some of the advantages of registering your copyrights, which are 1) making a public record, 2) creating “prima facie evidence”, 3) the necessity in order to file an infringement suit, and 4) the ability to receive statutory damages and attorney’s fees. In this next and final Part 3 on registrations, I’ll address the ability, or lack thereof, to receive certain royalties for your copyrights.

The “Compulsory License” was first introduced in the Copyright Act of 1909, with the intent of making licenses more easily available for mechanical piano rolls, and the newly introduced phonorecord cylinders and discs. However, the practice throughout the years has been that most users of copyrights would negotiate a mechanical license, rather than jump through the numerous legal hoops defined in Section 115 necessary for such a compulsory license. (We’ll get into the details and terms of compulsory licenses in a later blog). The compulsory license was a little used clause for most of 100 years. In fact, Mary Beth Peters, the acting Register of Copyrights, testified to a subcommittee of Congress in 2004 that “Up to this day, very few notices of intention (for compulsory licenses) are filed with the Copyright Office”.

Then along came the increased activities of digital music delivery sites. With these digital providers attempting to clear millions of songs in order to launch their services, they began hiring “License Agents” to file for and administer compulsory licenses for their digital music offerings. They did this by having the License Agents send a “Notice of Intention” (NOI’s) of the use in order to comply with the compulsory license as defined in the Copyright Law.

However, a little noticed clause in Section 115(c)(1) says, “To be entitled to receive royalties under a compulsory license, the copyright owner must be identified in the registration or other public records of the Copyright Office. The owner is entitled to royalties for phonorecords made and distributed after being so identified, but is not entitled to recover for any phonorecords previously made and distributed.”

So, according to the law, even though your song has been published (which is a requirement before a compulsory license is available), and you may have earned significant income from your song, and even though your song may be well known and identified in many public records, until your copyright is registered in some manner with the copyright office, you are not legally “entitled” to receive royalties from compulsory licenses; or even to recover past royalties earned after you register the copyright.

Having the song registered in the Copyright Office does not necessarily mean it has to have a copyright registration filed. But the law does say, “…the copyright owner must be identified in the registration or other public records of the Copyright Office.” Those “other public records” could include transfers of ownership, license agreements, termination of transfers, or other records where you, the owner of the copyright, are identified. But the law is clear that these public records must be filed in the Copyright Office in order for you (the copyright owner) to be “entitled” to receive these compulsory license royalties.

So, a song could be a number one hit on radio, or even number one on iTunes downloads, and yet have royalties legally withheld from any streaming service (Spotify, Rhapsody, etc.) which licenses their content through the practice of compulsory licenses, until the copyright and owner information has been registered in some manner in the Copyright Office.

This should be pretty good motivation for copyright owners to register, in some manner, their copyright and information in a timely manner, at least after the song has been released in some commercial manner, making it eligible for compulsory licenses.

I would love to hear any thoughts and comments from others in the industry about this practice.

John Barker
ClearBox Rights, LLC

“Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.” – Daniel Boorstin

© 2013 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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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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Is Copyright Registration Necessary? (Part 1)

I hear this question all the time. A songwriter asks, “Do I need to register my song to get copyright protection?”, and then another writer will give their misinformed opinion. Here is my answer, in simple, black and white:

Registering a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office does not provide federal copyright protection to the song.

That is not my opinion. That is a fact. Unfortunately, it is a fact that most songwriters, and many publishers, don’t get. There is a difference between “securing copyright protection” and “registering the copyright” of a song. These are two distinct events.

Before the Copyright Act of 1976, a song obtained federal statutory copyright protection only after the song was both published and had a notice of copyright affixed to it. (If no notice was affixed to the song which was “published” prior to January 1, 1978, then there was no copyright protection, and the song was considered public domain). However, the Copyright Act of 1976 changed that by stating that federal statutory copyright protection is obtained as soon as a song is fixed in any “tangible medium of expression”. [Section 102(a)]. No publishing of the work is necessary; no accompanying copyright notice is necessary; and no registration of the copyright is necessary. This means that your song is fully protected by federal copyright law the moment you write it on a napkin, record it on your smart phone, or any other means in which you put it into a tangible form. Period. That’s all it takes.

With this copyright protection, the owner now has the full and exclusive rights to reproduce the song, prepare derivative works, distribute, display, or publicly perform the song, and to give (or deny) permission to others to do any of those activities. (This includes the ability to prevent anyone from using the song under a compulsory license, which we’ll get to later).

So what does the act of registering a copyright in the U.S. Copyright Office provide? For one, it creates a public record that you claim you wrote this song as of a certain date. But the $35.00 to $65.00 filing fee per registration (depending on whether you file electronically or by paper), can be expensive, especially for developing writers who may write multiple songs per week with less likelihood of earning royalties. Remember, the song already has full copyright protection. The goal is to generate proof that this is your original work as of the date it was created without having to pay the prohibitive registration fees.

If you affix the song in some tangible medium and then put it away on a shelf somewhere for fear that someone might steal all or parts of it, then you may have a tougher time in proving that the song was created by you and actually existed as of the date that you wrote it. You want to do certain things to stack the odds in your favor that you can successfully prove it is yours. Rather than hide the song, you should make it known. The more people you play it for, the more people you create as “witnesses” to the fact that this is your song. Some people suggest mailing the song to yourself and receiving a postmark showing the date on the unopened package. That’s fine. Some will perform it and record it with a date stamp. Also good. Some may store it on a computer or in an on-line storage locker with a date. Any way you can show that the song existed, written by you, with a date attached, will provide a certain level of proof that you are the copyright owner.

As we’ve gone over, the act of registering has nothing to do with copyright protection. In fact, in Section 408(a), the law clearly states, “Such registration is not a condition of copyright protection.” So to answer the first question, “Is copyright registration necessary for copyright protection”? The answer is a simple “no”.

The act of registering the song also does not prevent the unlawful activity of copying or infringing on the song. So why would anyone need to register the copyright with the copyright office? Well, the registration does provide the copyright owner with certain abilities and advantages in defending the copyright, and also in receiving certain royalties, which are both important. We’ll cover those advantages in Part 2 next week.

John Barker
Clearbox Rights

“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” – Samuel Clemens

© 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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Songwriters are no longer dying to get their copyrights back.

Writers can now get their songs back in the living years, through the added terms of Section 203 of the 1978 Copyright Act. (That is, starting after January 1st of 2013). The Copyright Act permits writers, or their heirs, to terminate grants of copyright assignments and licenses made after January 1, 1978, within a 5 year window, effective 35 years after the date of the original grant.

While congress’ original intent in coming up with “renewals” for copyrights in the 1909 Copyright Act was for the writers to have an opportunity, later in life, to enjoy the benefits of their earlier successful works, publishers made it a practice to have writers assign those future renewals to the publisher. The only “out” was if the writer didn’t survive to the renewal date, whereupon the future assignment of renewal to the publisher wasn’t valid. In order for pre-1978 songs to revert back to the writers, they pretty much had to die. That caused some obvious problems with retirement planning. Renewals became more like a life insurance policy rather than a living retirement subsidy.

Now that’s all changed. Big songs first assigned in the year 1978 are eligible to be “recaptured” by the living writers effective in 2013. There are still some specific hoops to jump through, such as when and how to send the termination notices (not greater than 10 years and not less than 2 years before the 5 year window). But, for the most part, these rights cannot be assigned away ahead of time. So now, for the first time in over 100 years, the intent of the U.S. Congress for the majority of living writers to enjoy the benefits of their works later in life is becoming a reality.

John Barker

“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” – Colette

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