Copyright exists the moment you fix a work in a “tangible medium of expression” – for example, you record it in a file; you write it down on score paper; you paint it on a canvas. Therefore, registration with the US Copyright Office is entirely voluntary.
So why register? What are the benefits?
First of all, you want the public to know that you hold the copyright to the work. Registration is a public record of your ownership.
If someone infringes upon your copyright, you need a registration to sue. If you approach an infringer and they learn you do not have a registration, your bargaining power to settle goes down the drain. They know you can’t sue, without a registration.
I’ll take a moment now to remind you that we at Eleven are not attorneys, and that you should contact an attorney that specializes in copyright law if you need legal advice.
So what about that little copyright © symbol? Can I use it if I haven’t registered my work?
The short answer is “yes.” Your work does not need to be registered in order to use that symbol. However, if you need additional clarification, consult an attorney.
Applying for a US copyright registration takes place online. The old paper application forms you might be familiar with, have been phased out. And here’s the thing. The online forms look very simple. But there are many nuances that could trip you up, without your ever knowing – until you go to rely on your registration and it turns out to be flawed. So, can you do this yourself? Technically, yes. Should you? No. If you’re in the music business, copyrights are your most important assets. Treat them as such, by using qualified copyright counsel.
This is one of the most misunderstood concepts in all of copyright law. So to start, throw out whatever you think “work made for hire” means, and definitely throw out what others have told you it means!
There are only two ways work can qualify as “work made for hire.” One is if you created the work within the scope of your employment. In that case, your employer is considered the author of the work; it’s like you never existed.
The only other way work can qualify as “work made for hire” is if the work falls into one of nine very narrow categories, and there is a written agreement signed by both parties that the work is to be considered “for hire.” If the work doesn’t fall into one of those nine categories (and most work does not!!) it isn’t work made for hire even if you’ve signed an agreement saying it is. For more information you definitely need to consult a copyright lawyer. For now, though, understand: just because somebody calls it “work made for hire” doesn’t mean it actually is.
Generally speaking, you can think of copyright as a mechanism to protect the work you have created. Protecting your assets is a good idea, but the degree to which you safeguard your property depends on your situation. If you decide to retain the services of an attorney to assist you with copyright, ensure that the attorney has experience in this area.