Entertainment & Art: Law Myths Debunked
As an attorney whose firm focuses on art and entertainment law, I have heard my fair share of copyright myths. People act upon the following myths thinking it will save them money, but the consequences for copyright infringement as well as failing to properly copyright your own work can be costly. Here are a few that I have heard quite a bit:
Myth: 6 Seconds or less of music sampling is ok to use without permission.
I have heard this statement repeated often. Sometimes the person varies the myth and says 8 seconds or 5 seconds, but this is just simply untrue no matter what the timeframe is. There is no magical minimum number or set of notes, bars, hooks, or seconds of a copyrighted work that are permissible to use without licensing that gives proper credit and usually royalties. Taking any part of a copyrighted work whether a sample of the singing or the musical notes is opening oneself up to a lawsuit on the grounds of copyright infringement.
Myth: Copyrighting is expensive.
In past articles I mentioned that the typical filing fee for one work by a single author is only $35.00 if filed online. Many types of copyright claims can be filed online at www.copyright.gov/eco. The estimated online processing time is currently 8 months. In some instances, a paper application is required. The paper application fee is $85.00, and the estimated processing time is currently 13 months. See circular 4 at www.copyright.gov to determine which type of application is required for your copyrighting situation.
Myth: Mailing yourself your work is the equivalent of a copyright.
This is often called the “poor man’s copyright,” and I have had clients ask me whether this is in fact a legitimate way to copyright one’s work because of the postmark on the envelope. This is a long running myth…but nothing more. In this situation, I tell my clients “If protecting your work is important to you, and/or you have a concern about copyright infringement, then you should be filing the copyright either online or with a physical application at the Copyright Office.” There is nothing in the copyright law that would make a postmark the same as registering the work.
Myth: If it is online and there is no copyright notice, then it is in the public domain and ok to use without permission.
Just because a work is online and easily viewable by the public does not mean that copyright protection does not apply. Public domain only applies to works that have had their copyright expire, or are works that could have been copyrightable but have been entered into the public domain by the copyright owner. The timetable on when works have entered public domain depends on several factors that will be addressed in a future article but can be found through many online resources. However, there may be other limited exceptions to copyright law that permit use (e.g. fair use), but they are the exception and more of a defense rather than the rule.
Disclaimer: This is for informational purposes only and not exhaustive of all aspects of the law on this topic and it is not to be considered legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances, you should contact an attorney for advice on specific legal problems.
by Devon Landis, Esquire