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When I was in music school the “poor man’s copyright” was often recommend as a way of legally protecting my music. The basic concept is that you mail a copy of your music to yourself, after the package arrives you leave it unopened, and then use the post office’s date stamp to prove ownership.
I never actually tried using the poor man’s copyright (and I’m not sure if my friends did either). The idea seemed too easy for someone to fake, and I didn’t actually believe it would hold up in court. It turns out I was correct – for the most part.
The U.S. Copyright Office’s website remarks, “it is not a substitute for registration.” The UK’s Copyright site goes a step further and insults the poor man: “It is so easy to cast doubt on such evidence, we believe it is next to worthless.”
This would make you think that registration is the only option for obtaining a copyright, but the opposite is true: copyright is automatic. An original work is legally under copyright the moment it is created in a tangible form, and does not require the signing of official documents from the government.
If it is automatic then why pay the $45 fee to register?
According to the U.S. Copyright Office’s website:
“Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie (ie. by first instance) evidence in a court of law.”
What I take from all this: registering will hold up better in court. Next time I’ll look at why traditional copyright may be harmful for musicians.No comments