© C in a Circle - Copyright Stocking Stuffers

For my last column of 2006, I thought I would talk about some copyright law principles of which many people are either unaware or uncertain.

Posted in Songwriter 101 on December 7, 2006

Did you know that…

  • In order for a transfer of copyright from one person or entity to another to be valid, it has to be in writing? (If you orally tell a publisher that it can publish your songs, you haven’t given it ownership of your copyright. All you have given the publisher is permission (called a “license”) to act as publisher until you say otherwise.)
  • A person who legally buys a CD or video has no right to play it in a public place without permission of the copyright owners of all of the copyrighted works on the CD or video? (A business needs a license to play CDs in public even if they went out and bought the CDs from FYE, for example. That is why having a license from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC pretty much would cover the right to play the music on any CD the business would buy.)
  • A work written by an employee of and for the United States Government is not entitled to be protected by copyright? (If you wish to incorporate parts of any U.S. Government publication into something you are writing or publishing, no permission is needed. It is all in the public domain upon creation.)
  • Displaying sheet music or song lyrics in public without first getting the copyright owner’s permission is a copyright infringement? (One of the exclusive rights of a copyright owner of a musical work is the right to “display” it publicly. So you can’t legally post copyrighted song lyrics online or have an exhibition of your sheet music collection without getting a license to do so first, unless the works are in the public domain.)
  • If you hire an architect to create blueprints for a new house with original design elements and the house is built from the blueprints, someone who sees your new house and copies its design to build one for him or herself is a copyright infringer? (It is not a copyright violation to take a picture of and publish a building constructed from a blueprint, but you can’t make a copy of the design by building a duplicate house without permission from the architect.)
  • If you file for bankruptcy, any of your copyrights or rights that flow from copyrights that exist on the date you filed automatically are owned by your Trustee from that point forward? (Songwriters who file for bankruptcy must have their performance and other royalties on “pre-petition” works [those that were created prior to filing) paid to the Trustee. The Trustee has the right to sell your copyrights, including your writer share and/or publisher share royalty stream(s), to an unrelated purchaser in order to get as much money as he can to pay off your creditors. Of course, you could buy the rights back if you could come up with enough cash, but most bankrupt songwriters forever lose their royalties in pre-petition compositions to investors who buy bankruptcy assets.)
  • A visual artist (sculptor, painter, etc.) — but not a musical creator or any other kind — has a copyright right that allows him or her to prevent a creative work from being intentionally distorted, mutilated or modified in such a way that would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation, and to have their name disassociated with the work in the case of such changes? (This is the only kind of statutory “moral right” that a U.S. artist has.)
  • If a writer, for whatever reason, assigns his or her song copyright to two different publishers who do not know about the other transfer and who have agreed to pay him royalties in exchange for the assignment, if the second publisher properly recorded its assignment in the Copyright Office before the first publisher did, the second publisher owns the copyright in the song, regardless of how many years apart the transfers were made?
  • A sound recording only has protection under U.S. copyright if it was made after February 15, 1972? (That was the date that sound recordings were added to the list of creations that were entitled to federal copyright protection. Any sound recording that was made before then is only protected from being copied under whatever state laws may cover it.)
  • Works may, but are not required to, have a copyright notice on them? (But if a notice is put on, it must contain three elements: the symbol © or the word “Copyright”  or the abbreviation “Copr.” and the year of first publication of the work (which can be omitted on certain pictorial, graphic or sculptural works) and the name of the copyright owner, a recognizable abbreviation of the owner, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner.)
  • It is a copyright infringement to record, transmit or distribute a live performance without permission of the performers?

With these tidbits of copyright trivia, I send you off to have a happy holiday. May all of your creations in 2007 and beyond have no copyright problems attached! Pea©e.

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