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How to... Copyright Your Work

from the Professor's New Book, "God Didn't Create Alarm Clocks"

By, Professor Pooch
© 2017 David J. Spangenberg

"Work" = Your Creation

Click the button below for the Audio PoochCast™ of this Article:

How to... Copyright Your Work

The majority of people are honest and law-abiding, but there is a nasty minority who will steal anything that isn't nailed down, and find a crowbar for the things that are. After putting all that hard work into creating your Work, I recommend that you play it safe, protecting your Work in every possible way.

The first precaution: never show your Works to anyone without having "the Copyright Notice" on it, in some manner. (Yes, you may use this even before officially registering it.)

The most often used form of Copyright Notice contains:

  1. the symbol © [except " (P) " for Sound Recordings]
  2. the year you registered the Work, and
  3. the owner's name. Examples:

For an Artistic Person, such as a Songwriter:

© 2017 David J. Spangenberg

Or, for more than 1 owner...

© 2017 David J. Spangenberg and Karen Stauffer

For a Company owning A Work of Art, such as, in Music, a Publisher:

© 2017 Poochstuff Publishing

I recommend you type, write, or have appear in some way, this "the Copyright Notice" on everything you hand out, if at all possible. It makes people think twice before attempting to steal it, and offers some legal protection if they do.

You may legally use this notice as soon as your Work has been "affixed in a tangible medium of expression" - Translation: as soon as it can be seen or heard. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to register your Work before the protections kick in!

However, you Should also "Register it" with the Copyright Office in Washington, D.C. Registering a copyright comes with several benefits. One such benefit is, if for some reason, you are in court, you'll have a recorded date and Copyright Number.

A second reason is, Works are often Copyrighted more than once, first by the Creator, and then by a Company. That company will give you some form of an "Assignment of Copyright" form, or it may be included in your contractual agreement, that you must include your copyright registration number. If you never registered it, you can't produce the number...

The Copyright Office Website's Web Address is easy to remember:

copyright.gov

IMPORTANT NOTE: The Copyright Office prefers On-Line Registrations! You can register your information, upload your Works, if digital, and pay right on the site.

The main advantages for doing it on-line, if possible, are that the Copyright Office charges less if you do it on-line, and you'll receive the registrations back somewhat faster.

Also, when you first go on the site, it will ask you to fill out a username and password, so that...

  1. You can save them at any step and come back to the one(s) you're working on at another time.
  2. When you are finished one, save it as a template, so you don't have to start from scratch the next time...

To protect your Work, you need to choose the correct form to use. The main ones are, in general:

Performing Arts: this is when you are registering a musical work (with or without lyrics); and also is used for films, dramatic works, such as a screenplay, play or other script, a pantomime, or a choreographic work, and the like.

Sound Recording: this is when you are registering a sound recording.

Note: You'll notice on all physical copies of sound recordings, such as CDs, and other listings of sound recordings: (P) 2017 UMG, or (P) 2017 Columbia Records, for examples. It stands for "Sound Recording" ownership. They own the Recorded Production, and not necessarily, the underlying Song.

Visual Arts: this is if you are registering a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work. This could also include 2 and 3-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art; photographs; prints and art reproductions, maps, technical drawings; and architectural works.

Literary Work: this is when you are registering a nondramatic literary work, which can include a wide variety of works such as fiction, nonfiction, poetry, textbooks, etc.

Exception: if a work is intended to be performed, it will normally fall in the "performing arts" category.

Yes, in some instances, you may save money by registering several Works at once, and calling them a "Collection." That is, one "form" covering several creations, instead of only one Work per form.

Copyrighting as a collection may sound like a good idea, but it may cause problems later on. A possible hazard is that you may decide to give one Work from a collection to one company and another to someone else - but both Works have the same registration number!

Some people believe it is simpler and cheaper, and offers sufficient protection, to mail a finished copy of the Work to themselves using the postmark date as evidence of date of authorship, and leaving the envelope unopened until proof is required in the event of a legal contest. Others may use different methods, but no method other than proper registration can be counted on when you need real proof of ownership - which is a Registration Number. Why take chances?

To File Your Copyright on line, click on:

"Log in to the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) Registration System"

which you will find at: https://www.copyright.gov/registration/index.html

A couple other important pieces of information you should keep in mind:

  1. You cannot copyright the Title of a Work, a Name, or a short phrase. (You may be able to "Register/Trademark" them).
  2. Whoever's name is listed on the Copyright Form under "Copyright Claimant" is the Owner of the Work and usually has the right to do with the Work as they please, unless covered otherwise in the Contract.

Although, yes, a "person can be a claimant," I highly recommend You check into forming Your Own Company and Own & Control Your Own Work. In this case your company would be the claimant, which would give you leverage and protection in quite a few cases.


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David J. Spangenberg
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