Tuesday, February 14, 2012
To Copyright or Not to Copyright
By Linda Goodman
In January of this year, I released my new CD Bobby Pins. For my first recording, Jessie and Other Stories, released in 1992, I had already registered the copyrights for the written versions of the stories, so I did not register the copyright for the recording. This time I decided to do both.
I found the instructions for the sound recording copyright registration (Form SR) to be confusing, so I called several professional storytellers who have produced numerous recordings to see if they might be able to help me understand what was being asked. To my surprise, not one of them had registered copyrights for their recordings. The reason: the slight chance that their stories might be stolen did not justify the expense.
To register a copyright at http://www.copyright.gov/forms/ costs just $35.00 if it is done online (encouraged). To register using paper forms costs $65.00.
According to the United States Copyright Office’s document Copyright Basics, “Copyright protects ‘original works of authorship’ that are fixed in a tangible form of expression.” Tangible forms of expression include a book, CD, or any other fixed format. Registration is not a requirement for protection, however:
1. For works of U.S. Origin, registration is required before an infringement suit can be filed in court.
2. If copyright registration is made within three months after publication, or before an infringement, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only actual damages and profits will be available.
On February 13, 2012, I called Richmond area copyright attorney Jonathan Pond, who verified that I had interpreted the above statements correctly. He also reminded me that works that are not fixed in a tangible form of expression are not protected. What this means is that if you tell a story that has not been written or recorded (or otherwise preserved in a fixed format), that story is not protected. Not only that, but if someone records your telling of that story, that person can actually copyright his recording.
Most storytellers with whom I have had this conversation believe that the chance of infringement is slim. They may be right, but I have personally had two copyright infringement issues plague me during the past five years. In one instance, a theater group did some creative staging with one of my works, and believed that gave them the right to copyright their version, using my stories verbatim, without paying royalties. Fortunately, the group was reasonable and backed down after talking with my publisher. In the other instance, my story The Bobby Pins was published in India in a text book used for teaching English as a second language, along with a notice that the story was not copyrighted and could be used by anyone in any manner whatsoever. Unfortunately, I do not find it feasible to fight a copyright infringement in an Indian court. Besides, there is no such thing as an international copyright. Protection against infringement in a particular country depends on the national laws of that country.
For more detailed information than what I have presented here go to http://www.copyright.gov/ and print a copy of Copyright Basics under the About Copyright heading.