This week’s post is from Bryan Tuk, a copyright attorney.
Fellow writers, there’s never been a better time or greater need to take control of your own creative and professional life. There is a sentiment running through modern life that all information should be free. This really broke into the mainstream collective consciousness in the later 1990s when the creation of Napster allowed users to digitize their CDs and vinyl albums and share those files at will. The result was the near-total annihilation of the recorded music industry. Now musicians who used to be able to sell records — and earn a lot of revenue doing it — have had to rely on live performance revenue to make a living. There is an important lesson here for other creatives.
Should all information be free?
The “all information should be free” ethos is extraordinarily dangerous to the livelihood of professional creative people. I’m not talking about an author of the New York Times best-selling novel; I’m talking about the up-and-coming writers and the stars of tomorrow who are working hard to subsist on revenue generated from their creative work.
The battle between the “all information should be free,” and creative entrepreneurs and artists is real and getting worse every day. So, in these trying times, how do independent authors and creatives protect themselves? By exercising control over their creative output.
You would never open a coffee shop or record store and let people simply walk in and take product and walk out without paying. Why? Because you would quickly be out of business. Yet, that is exactly what happens when someone reproduces your writing without your consent.
US Copyright Act
The most powerful tool creatives have to protect themselves is the US Copyright Act. Registering your work with the Copyright Office is relatively easy, inexpensive, and can be done without an attorney. The Copyright Act is an extraordinarily powerful tool for creatives to use to protect their work from unauthorized reproduction.
How to register your copyright
Registering a copyright application is very straightforward and can be done without legal counsel. There is a lot of good (and free!) information on the Copyright Office’s website.
The registration fee is $55 per application, and there are ways to combine groups of shorter works into a single application. Also, bloggers can now protect large groups of blog posts in a single application, but that is an article unto itself.
Why register your copyright
The reason that copyright registration is so important for creative professionals is that once you have your registration number, you can enforce the rights nationwide in federal court against potential infringers. Without registration, you do not have legal standing to sue in federal court. If you can assert an infringement claim, a federal court can pose upon the infringer, which includes the following:
- the copyright owner’s actual damages and any additional profits of the infringer;
- statutory damages between $750 and $30,000 per infringement as the court deems just; and
- the plaintiff’s attorney fees and court costs if the plaintiff prevails in the litigation.
More reasons to copyright your book
Another benefit to copyright registration is that the protection one receives is incredibly long-lasting. Generally speaking, the duration of copyright protection extends seventy years after the death of the author. So your copyright registrations are something that should be included in your estate plan and passed on to the next generation(s). One successful novel, screenplay, or similar work can generate revenue for you, your children, and grandchildren.
Bryan Tuk is a practicing attorney focused on creatives, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. Bryan is also a musician and author based in Kennett Square, PA. You can learn more about his law practice at http://tuklaw.com.