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If You Don't Register Your Copyright, You Have No Protection

If you want to find some bad advice, there is plenty of it out there to be easily found. Like the guy that said you can’t go swimming for 30 minutes after you eat. I’d like to hunt him down and make him pay for the hours I sat on the side of the pool during the summers as a young child. And while I am at it, I would like to find the clown that said cracking your knuckles is bad for you and that if you swallow gum it will stay in your stomach for 15 years.

Well there is another pile of bunk floating around out there about copyrights. You may have heard it yourself. Ready? Here it is – if you put something into a tangible medium you have common law copyright protection. WRONG!

First of all, common law copyright protection is pretty much nothing. All common law copyright protection does is to give the author the right to choose when and where and how to publish a work. For example, you make a speech at graduation because you are the smartest in your class. If you did not write that speech on paper, then under common law, you have the right to choose when, where and how it is published. BUT, if you wrote the speech on paper or index cards, then your speech it is what we copyright nerds call “fixed in a tangible medium”. At that very instance, all of your very limited common-law rights vanish into thin air.

Why? Because the Federal Copyright Law, as set forth in the Lanham Act, is PREMEMPTIVE. “What do that mean?” you ask. It means that once anything that can be copyrighted is put into a physical form, such as a writing, a recorded song, a sculpture, a picture, a painting, etc., common law rights end and Federal rights begin.

But, and this is VERY IMPORTANT, under Federal Copyright Law, you cannot sue anyone for infringement until you register your copyright with the United States Copyright Office. And on top of that, you have to register it within 3 months after you put the work in a physical form.

Okay, so here is the rub. You write a poem and put it in the local newspaper for a contest, or you make a painting for an art show, or you write a song for church, etc. Then, Mr. Ain’tSoCool comes by and decides he is going to make a bunch and sell them, like putting your poem in a book of poems, or copying your painting to put on T-Shirts, etc. Let’s say Mr. Ain’tSoCool makes about a million dollars doing this. How much of that are you going to get? Zilch. You have to register your copyright to file suit and get damages and, you cannot get the damages retroactively. So if you did not register your copyright within three months, or one month from the infringement, then you just made Mr. Ain’tSoCool a cool million.

I know, I know, I know, this sounds like it totally sucks, and it does … for you. But not so much for Mr. Ain’tSoCool. But now you know, and the best thing about this story is that you are at the website so you can easily file for copyright registration of your works in a very easy and cost effective manner. So, what are you waiting for?