Do you create, own, sell, or license content that you care about controlling, whether writing books or blogs, making fine art, or creating digital works in the cloud? Are you an independent contractor? Are you considering signing with a publisher? Do you know how to legally incorporate works belonging to others into your own work? Have you been served with a DMCA “take down” notice or other claim of copyright infringement?
Attorney Gretchen McCord has represented creators and copyright owners of all sizes, from individual authors and artists to major corporations. She has also worked with users of protected works, from schools and libraries to entrepreneurs and local businesses to international companies. Her uncommon range of experience uniquely positions her to assist you in protecting your rights in what you create while complying with laws protecting the rights of others. Among other things, she can help you:
- Register copyrights in your works
- Negotiate publishing agreements, licenses, and other contracts
- Ensure that you don’t give up your rights when you contract to create content for others
- License your own works to others or license your use of works belonging to others
- Ensure that you are not infringing the rights of others by using their works
- Evaluate and respond to claims by others that you have infringed their rights
Common Myths You Should Know About
Reality Check: Not unless you signed a written assignment of your rights. Unlike employees, with no written documentation stating otherwise, independent contractors own the copyright in what they create for someone else, no matter how much the hiring party paid.
Reality Check: Under current copyright law, everything (that meets very minimal requirements) is protected by copyright automatically at the moment it is created. This is true even if there is no copyright notice (the “C in a circle”) or other indication of a claim of copyright. Unless the copyright owner has given you permission to use it, your use probably infringes the copyright.
Reality Check: A copyright is infringed when someone copies, makes derivatives, distributes copies to the public, and/or performs or displays a work in public without the owner’s permission, regardless of whether they profit financially from it, or even whether the copyright owner sells or licenses the work.
Reality Check: Making changes to an existing work may constitute creating a “derivative” of that work, which is an infringement of the copyright owner’s rights. There is no minimum quantitative requirement for infringement. Furthermore, citing the author does not relieve you of being liable for infringement. Although plagiarism often occurs together with copyright infringement, it is an issue of ethical behavior, not a legal issue.
Reality Check: Ownership of an item, whether a hard copy or digital, is completely separate from ownership of any copyright in the item or even limited permission to use it in certain ways. The Copyright Act does give the owner of a lawfully made copy of an item to further distribute it to the public (but not to make copies to distribute; rather, to “dispose of” that copy any way you wish).
In the case of a digital work, you may not even own the work. Many “purchases” of digital works (such as most ebooks) are actually subject to licenses that dictate how you can and cannot use the work. In this csae, check the license to see what it allows.
Reality Check: Although you generally have the right to take photos or video in places open to the public — but not necessarily all public “events” — how you use those materials may be subject to various laws, including right of publicity.
This used to be referred to as “the poor man’s copyright.” But that was back when obtaining copyright protection required following certain formalities, such as registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Under current copyright law, a work (that meets very minimal requirements) is protected by copyright automatically at the moment it is created. Registering the copyright provides more enforcement rights in case of infringement but is not required. So the “poor man’s copyright” today is an old wives’ tale to which there are no apparent benefits.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There are any number of reasons a copyright owner — whether a large corporate entity like a major publisher or movie studio, or an individual author — might want to stop your infringing use of their work. For example, in the first decade of this century, the Recording Industry Association of America filed what some have reported as over 25,000 copyright infringement lawsuits against individuals over the illegal online sharing of music. It is more likely that you would receive a cease-and-desist letter from an upset copyright owner than a lawsuit, but even responding to that and/or settling a claim can involve expenditures of time, money, and stress.