Monday, May 25, 2009

Promoting copyright myths

The Washington Post just ran a story on troubles in the copyright registration system. It’s an important story, unfortunately confusing “registration” with “copyright” almost every single time the word “copyright” appears. (E.g., “Alita Ditkowsky does not want her daughter to perform without a copyright ….”) It is misleading, and potentially quite damaging, to tell authors that “a claim filed with the government offers legal protection -- it is the only way to stop someone else from copying a work.” Copyright in the US is automatic on fixation of a creative work—writing it down, recording it, sculpting it, or what have you. Registration, for US authors, provides some significant benefits, and is required before suing for infringement, but registration is not necessary for basic copyright protection. Those who have not yet registered need not worry about losing all their rights. This is not to deny the urgency of improvement in the registration process. But authors need not be paralyzed by paralysis in the Copyright Office.

Some commenters online are at least attempting to correct the article’s distortions, but as one might expect they’re competing with comments about how the right solution is to mail a copy of your work to yourself and rely on the postmark to prove ownership.

3 comments:

Bruce Boyden said...

Last week I saw an email from an attorney, who allegedly practices entertainment law, that claimed this (but helpfully added that you might be able to get common-law copyright protection for unregistered works).

Rebecca Tushnet said...

Auuugh!

Anonymous said...

I think some of the confusion also arises from the fact that people confuse "protection" and "an action for infringement." I mean, if you want money, it pays to register. If you want a "copyright" only, of course, it may not.