SCOTUS Clarifies Two Big Issues

This morning, the US Supreme Court issued two opinions on copyright issues. Shockingly, both were unanimous decisions, too.

First, in Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC, et al., the court ruled that in order to file suit, the owner of a U.S.-created work must have actually registered the copyright, not just applied for registration. This clarified the rule for everyone since there had been a circuit-split on it before, meaning in some places you could file suit with only an application to register, but not others. So now, if you file suit without an actual registration in hand, not just a case number, your case will be dismissed.

To be accurate, the court also said that a copyright owner whose application to register was refused may also file suit, but there are additional steps in that situation and, frankly, I don’t want to get into that side of things in this post. What is important to know is that, once again, the court has made it clear that the importance of registration can’t be over-emphasized.

The other case was Rimini Street, Inc., et al. v Oracle USA, Inc. et al. At issue in that case was what qualify as costs under the rule that says that “full costs” can be awarded to a prevailing party. Costs are different from “attorneys’ fees” first of all, and those fees weren’t the issue here. Rather, here, it was what specific litigation costs are included under Section 505.

Oracle had been awarded millions of dollars in costs like expert witnesses and e-discovery, and jury consultants. However, those categories of costs aren’t included under a different statute that lists categories of costs recoverable generally (not just for copyright cases). Oracle tried to argue that those costs were legitimately awarded under Section 505, but the court held that the only costs that can be awarded in copyright cases are those in the categories listed in that other statute–basically saying that 505 was limited by that other statute.

This means that when you are considering filing suit, you shouldn’t expect to recover all your costs in litigating that case, no matter how much of a winner your case is. You can recover things like filing fees and costs for copying transcripts, but many of the common costs in litigation today are simply not recoverable under the current statutes. Hopefully congress with make a change to that statute to reflect the realities of litigating in the 21st century, but until that happens, litigating parties will expend more money out of their own pockets.

For both of these cases, the importance of registration still reigns supreme: you can’t get any costs unless your registration is timely and you can’t even get into court unless you have a registration. Since getting a registration takes time (months!), you need to register well before the three year statute of limitations runs out (see FN1 here). Why not register asap after creation to make sure neither issue bites you in the butt?

Showing 2018 the Door

As we show 2018 the door, and just like we did last year, now is the time to take a look at the year that was and think about the year yet to be.

In 2018, many of us were still reasonably pre-occupied by the lunacy in Washington, DC. It’s been a tough year for anyone who respects the law and has any sense of human decency. Still, while we can’t give any of that bad stuff a pass, we also need to focus on our own lives and, crass as it may sound, our businesses.

With that in mind, here is a list of some things to do, to stop doing, and at the very least to consider as you gear up for 2019.

  • Register your copyrights. Please. I beg you. If you are a creative professional, stop making excuses and start doing this. As I mentioned last year, while there are services for this, I do not recommend using any of them because they might not be anything more than maybe adequate and quite possibly deficient. A well done registration can make a potential defendant in an infringement matter settle fast and for more money. A wonky one may be challenged by a wily defendant or will at least give one pause. Registration  is not that hard anyway, particularly for visual artists and even more so for still photographers.
    • Relatedly, stop thinking about the cost of registration as a reason not to register–first, it is a legitimate business cost and so you can write it off and, second, it is like insurance that you pay for once but off which you can make many claims (and for much more than the original cost). You will (almost assuredly) make more money in your business if you register your copyrights.
  • Pursue infringements. Not every case has to be worth 5-figures or more to get legal help. Some attorneys, like me, will take on small cases because they simply do add up. Let’s say you have small value infringements but a bunch of those– worth $2500 average settlement, just for sake of argument. 10 of those over the year is $25K. Now, let’s say your attorney gets 35% of that: you’re still pocketing over $16K.  How about 20 cases and more than $32K in your bank? Why not see of they are worth getting a lawyer to pursue (I review cases for free)?
    • Relatedly, consider using this tool instead of some much more costly “service” to find those infringements.
  • Make the time to make art for yourself. Whatever your medium/media, make making your own work, for you, a priority. Yes, you can probably use it later in your portfolio (because work made for yourself usually is your best work, if you let yourself really be free with it) but mostly, you need to give yourself total permission to explore, play, make utter crap, screw up, take risks, and re-find the joy in your work.
    • Relatedly, (re)learn how to fail. It is through failure that we achieve the abilities to be successful.
  • Get off social media, even for (most of) your marketing. The Terms of Use on pretty much all those services really do suck for creative pros, and all they do is make promises they can’t deliver.  And they are a huge time suck. And many of the companies have actively participated in bringing us the political hell we are now in. So stop facilitating their shitty behavior and quit using them. Besides, when it comes to your marketing, it’s virtually impossible to get seen by the right people by using social media, particularly if you are relying on trying to trend/go viral. Instead, do better targeting (make lists of the clients you want to work with!) and get back to the basics in your marketing plan. Back off the electronic crap and consider investing in really good print mailers. Also, try to interact in real life with potential clients. Make calls, go to industry events, volunteer with professional organizations of your potential clients–get out there in three dimensions!
    • Importantly, instead of posting everything on Facebook, Instagram, etc., keep your work on your own server/site and post links on social media, if you insist on using social media.
  • Use a watermark on visual art. Preferably, it should be in the form of a proper copyright notice (that is © year of first publication Name, for example: ©2018 Leslie Burns) but if not that then the copyright owner’s name (not your URL). For non-visual art, include the notice somehow like in the audio file for a podcast or both on the doc and in its metadata). I’ve already written about the wizbangery that is the CMI-related part of the DMCA–don’t ignore those protections!
    • Also, if you don’t know what metadata is or how to edit it for the digital forms of your works, learn now. Everything digital has metadata and that metadata can be crucial evidence in a lawsuit (it may also be CMI).
  • Make plans, including for death. Life changes, including the ultimate one, will affect your business and assets. That is basic reality. I lost my own father this year and you can trust me, having things properly organized and documented before the fact is a huge help in the grieving process. Take the time to look at where you are and what might happen, and plan accordingly (see my previous article on this, and this one on marriage, too).
  • Most of all, make time to be with those you love. Be fully present, and not just during the holidays. Also give to those who are worse off. Time and caring are things we can’t bank or buy; being present with those whom we love and who love us, and giving to others who are struggling somehow (and there are plenty of those these days) will do more for you than having another thing to own.

Here’s hoping 2019 is a happy, healthy, and prosperous year for us all.

New Rules! (for photo © registrations) UPDATED

Back in December of 2016, the US Copyright Office (USCO) proposed new rules for group photo registrations, including significant changes to registering a pile of unpublished photos. I wrote about the proposed rules then. Now, the final rules are out and they mostly match up with the proposed ones, but not completely.

The new rules make two categories of group photo registrations (leaving out databases, which are a different kettle of fish and most individual artists will not have to address those, so I’m skipping them here). The two categories are GRPPH for Group (of) Published Photographs and GRUPH for Group (of) Unpublished Photographs. Now, most of the rules are the same for both, making life a little easier as you will have to learn, essentially, one system.

First, though, you’ll notice that you still have to keep published and unpublished separated. The USCO looked at the issue and they simply can’t change that as it is not a “rule” but rather part of the law itself. The USCO has the authority to create and modify rules, but it can’t change the underlying law or create rules that conflict with those laws. It does sound like they think the split should be dropped, though, so maybe that will come sometime in the not terribly distant future?

Oh, and about the unpublished photographs… you will no longer be able to do the unlimited number of photos as a collection option. It is GRUPH only from here out.

Anyway, the new rules… first, the commonalities. These are the rules for both groups:

  • must have a title for the whole group
  • must have titles for each photograph in the group (can be just the file names, but with character restrictions)
  • limit of 750 photographs per registration
  • all photos must have the same author[1]
  • must register online–no paper registrations will be accepted
  • must pay the $55 fee
  • must submit digital deposit copies (jpeg, gif, tiff only), preferably in an uploaded .zip file containing all the photographs (that must be <500 megabytes total[2]);[3]
  • must submit a separate document that lists the photos in a very specific manner (more on that below) that should be included in the .zip file.

For published photographs, the pilot program is ending with these new rules. If you’ve been a part of the pilot program, the USCO should be contacting you about the changes. As for the registration differences, published photos have these additional rules: they all must be first published within the same calendar year (i.e., 2015 or 2018, etc.), same as the current rule; but, and this is new, they do not have to have been first published in the same country. Also, you will need the date of first publication for each photograph.

Now, about that list document… this is going to be a bit of extra work, but it really will be helpful in the case of an infringement as all the information about the deposit copies will be easily accessible. For this document, which the USCO says should be either xls (an Excel file) or a pdf, there are nitpicky rules. I suggest making a template and sticking to it.

First, the document itself must be named in a very specific manner: the title of the group plus the case number assigned to the application by the electronic registration system. Yes, that means you can’t name the document until after you have created the application online and get a case number, but you can still prep the document (that will be uploaded with the deposit copies) and have it ready, just add the case number to the title. An example for a group registration of unpublished photos that Photo Betty is making from her trip to Hawaii might be Group Unpublished Hawaii Photographs Case Number 123456789.xls. Or, for published photographs from the same trip, Group Published Hawaii Photographs Case Number 987654321.xls.[4]

The contents of the document need to be, in order:

  • sequential numbering (i.e., 1, 2, 3…)
  • title of the photograph (this may be the same as the file name)
  • file name of the photograph (no characters other than letters, numbers, and spaces).

So, for example, the contents of the document for unpublished photos might look something like[5]:

  1. title: Maui at Dusk 1 file: Maui1.jpg
  2. title: Maui at Dusk 2 file: Maui2.jpg
  3. (etc.)

If the photos are published, then you add the date of first publication. So, the example above, if Betty published them on her stock photo site on January 15, 2018, would be:

  1. title: Maui at Dusk 1 file: Maui1.jpg pub. date: 1/15/2018
  2. title: Maui at Dusk 2 file: Maui2.jpg pub. date: 1/15/2018
  3. (etc.)

That’s it and, really, it’s not that terrible.

More importantly, the rules specifically state that photographs registered as a part of one of these groups will each be individually covered by the registration. That is a very big deal. That eliminates one of the biggest arguments defendants make–that is that any one photograph is only a tiny part of the whole registration and so the damages must be less or, even, that fair use applies. Nope, now it will be clear that each photograph in the group gets the full measure of damages and is fully protected as its own self (not a part of a greater whole). Huge benefit there, especially for unpublished photos where this has been a particular problem.

These new rules go into effect on February 20, 2018. For the detailed information, go here (pdf).

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UPDATE: The USCO has come out with help pages that include links to templates (Excel) for making the lists. Go here for unpublished and here for published.

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[1] “Author” does not necessarily mean “photographer” although it can. If you are an individual photographer then you are the author of your photos. Easy-peasy. However, for studios with multiple photographers and other employers of photographers, the employer is the author of all the work, even if created by multiple photographers.

[2] The photos may be compressed to fit the file size requirement.

[3] You can send flash drives or DVDs or similar instead, but it’s really easier (and much faster to get your certificate) to upload the files.

[4] While the rules do not specifically say you must say “group” in the title, it has been preferred that one do that and I suspect that preference will continue. It won’t hurt to use that format so I suggest sticking to it, at least for now.

[5] The new rules state that the information I note must be included, as I have it here, but it doesn’t say what the preferred format is. This is a best guess for how they want it from the description in the rule. I expect the USCO will clarify in the instructions on their website soon. For example, maybe the Excel sheet can have the words “title” and “file name” (and “pub date”) in the column headers rather than in the text.

Copyright Small Claims: A Bad Solution to a Non-Problem

Many of you may have heard about the small claims copyright system that is being encouraged by several organizations. Many of those groups are artists groups and, while they have very good intentions, the idea of a small claims system for copyright is, in my opinion, a very bad one. It is a fix to a problem that does not exist. And, in exchange, artists are going to lose rights and remedies they should not give up.

Here’s the underlying argument that proponents of a Copyright Small Claims system share, over and over again: litigating a copyright suit costs a plaintiff at least tens of thousands if not over a hundred thousand dollars.

That argument is not correct in so many ways. Its a scare tactic and too many artists groups are buying into it. Allow me to explain the errors.

First, assuming that a case is litigated all the way through trial and judgment is an unfair metric for the average cost. Why? Because according to the Federal Courts own statistics (the most recent ones I found were for a 12-month period ending March 31, 2016), only .07% of all copyright cases filed are terminated (settled or a judgment is entered) during or after trial. To put that into more concrete terms, in that 12 months there were 4836 copyright cases filed in the USA; of those, only 32 were terminated either at trial (settlement after trial started but before judgment entered) or at the end of trial (judgment entered). In the 12 months ending March 31, 2015, it was 26 out of 4253 filed (.06%).

In other words, the chances that a case is fully litigated are incredibly slim! In fact, in the 2016 statistics, 37% of the filed cases are terminated before there is any court action and another 54% are terminated before the pre-trial phase (that is, by the close of discovery). So, 91% of copyright cases get settled by the close of discovery and virtually all the remaining cases settle before trial.

What does this mean? It means the cases that get fully litigated are really hard cases. Parties don’t take a case to trial unless either someone refuses to accept that s/he/it is sitting on a loser (rare) or there is a real question of how the matter might turn out (almost always). When there is a real question especially, then there are lots of experts and more extensive discovery overall and, well, of course the costs are going to be large!

But, going back to my original point, that just doesnt happen hardly at all. Instead, most parties are smart enough (or at least their lawyers are) to settle and to settle pretty early in the process. Usually there have already been pre-litigation settlement negotiations of some sort so when a suit is actually filed, the parties generally know that this is serious now and get their shit together and work it out.

Often, this just happens on its own. In my own experience, I’ve seen it happen over and over–a case gets filed after months of trying to get the defendant to settle, the defendant (finally) gets a lawyer, the lawyer wisely advises Settle, now! and we work it out. And we should, frankly. Most copyright cases are pretty clear cut and most of them should settle before suit is even filed but, if not, then shortly after.

When the parties don’t settle on their own, though, the federal courts have put in mandatory Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) procedures into the litigation process. These processes save the court time and money and it saves them both for the parties, too. For example, here in the Southern District of California, we have a Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) system that means no later than 45 days after the defendant(s) file its answer(s), the parties meet with the Judge Magistrate to look at the case and try to work it out. Often the case will settle at the ENE and, even when it doesn’t, cases usually settle shortly after. This all happens before you get into discovery (or it has barely started in some cases) and so costs are very limited.

The second major error in the scary math is that proponents of Small Claims don’t mention that, overwhelmingly, plaintiffs win copyright suits that go to trial. The latest statistics I saw on that (2009) put it at over 80%. When you win a copyright suit, you may be awarded your attorneys’ fees and costs (assuming you have registered your copyright before the infringement). While that award isn’t guaranteed, courts tend to make that award when it is a smaller plaintiff (like an individual artist) bringing suit, particularly when there is not a really unusual legal question at issue and/or the infringer is a big company that should know better. So, if you go through trial you have a very good shot at winning and, if you do win, you have a shot at having much of the out-of-pocket reimbursed. If your attorney is working on a contingency-fee-basis, you haven’t even been paying her yet anyway (just paying costs, like filing fees, etc.).

Okay, to recap, filing and litigating a copyright suit usually does not cost a terrifying pile of money. It is rare when it does and most of those suits are complex cases (and, by the way, often ones with large corporate plaintiffs like a movie studio). Small artists don’t need a system to reduce those costs because it is unlikely any small artist will get hit with them by filing an action[1].

What do small artists give up if they use the proposed Small Claims system? They give up their right to a jury trial (very bad thing), appeals are very limited, and most disturbingly, the system would limit the amount of money they can win–in fact, the maximum is cut in half (again, assuming the work is properly and timely registered). That depression in awards will affect those who opt out of the Small Claims system, too, even though the rulings of the tribunals would not be precedential. Artists would be giving up way too much for a protection they don’t even need!

The final argument made for a Small Claims system is that attorneys won’t take on small matters on contingency. That is just untrue. Some attorneys might not, but I know plenty who do, including me. In fact, that was a big part of my mission in becoming an attorney: to serve artists. Sure I can’t take every case, but I take a lot of very small ones. If the work is timely registered and the defendant looks solvent, there is a good chance I’ll take the case.

So, rather than give up your rights, use them to your advantage! Register your works, find an attorney who will work with you (it doesnt have to be me–I can recommend others, too), and go after infringers.

________________

[1] Before you even go to the Monkey Selfie case and the photographer being bankrupted by it: the photographer did NOT file that suit–he has been the defendant in a suit filed by PETA.

Registration? Application? What’s the deal?

Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion amongst us copyright law nerds about a circuit split on the requirement written in the statute that says you have to register the copyright before filing suit. The question is: what does “registration” mean in that statute? Seems obvious but, in law, we’re quite persnickety about word meaning so this is a big deal for us. I bet already some of you are fading out, thinking that this has little to do with you and your creative business. But it does! The good news is, you don’t need to know all the gruesome technical legal details.

Here is what you do need to know: if you want to sue someone for copyright infringement, you have to have registered the copyright before you file the lawsuit and the easiest way to make sure you’ve done that, no matter how they define it, is to register all yourworks as soon as possible after their creation. If you do that, then the complex legal question causing the circuit split won’t apply to you.

If you are one those who simplymustknow the details (and, if not, skip to the last paragraph), here’s the legal question: is applying for registration enough to mean “registered” or do you have to have the certificate in your hot little hands, before filing suit? We lawyer-types often call these two approaches application and registration, respectively. A couple of circuits have said that applying is enough to keep your lawsuit from being dismissed and a couple of others have said that you have to have the certificate.

So what? Well, thedifference means that, for example, if you file suit in California (9th Circuit), the courtswillsayif you’ve applied for your registration, you’re good to go; but, if you file the factuallyidentical* suit in Florida (11th Circuit) they will say you have to have the completed registration or your suit will be dismissed. So, you may be thinking, if you’ve only filed the application, you should just sue in one of the circuits that says that’s enough; but there is another part of the law that limits where you can file your suit, so that won’t work. That’s why I have an asterisk next to identicalabove, because one of the facts would bewhere the defendant is and if the defendant is only in Florida you can’t sue ’em in California.

Anyway, when there is a split like this, where some circuits say X and others say Y about the same statute, it falls on someone to appeal to the Supreme Court to get an answer. This means having a partywilling to do that (it’s not cheap) and then the court agreeing to review the case (which it probably would–SCOTUS likes to resolve circuit splits, usually). In other words, it’s not going to happen tomorrow so, for now, we have to live with the split.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, you can avoid all of this mess if you take the time to register your copyrights in your works as soon as you possibly can, after creation. That way you’ll make it impossible for the other side to bring up the application/registration question at all.

Pursuing Infringers: Good For You & Your Clients, Too

I just read this interview with photographer Andrew Buchanan, on the Copyright Alliance site (by the way, if you aren’t a member of the Copyright Alliance, you should be, in my opinion). In it, he says that he pursues infringers not only because he deserves to get paid for his work, but also because his clients pay him for his original work and if infringers use the work, then his clients are getting hurt.

I love that attitude and smart business thinking. By pursuing infringers, you are serving your clients as well as protecting yourself. You can even use that in your marketing! Let your clients know that while you can’t get every infringer, you do make efforts to make sure that infringers don’t use the work you are licensing. That is an added service value.

Mr. Buchanan is right in that registration is still a pain in the ass in some ways (like the whole published/unpublished thing, to start), but it’s part of what you need to do to ensure the viability of your cases, especially the more minor value infringements. I read a case recently, Gonzales v. Transfer Technologies, Inc., 301 F. 3d 608, 609 (7th Cir. 2002), that noted:

No one can prosecute a copyright suit for $3,000. The effect of the district court’s decision if universalized would be to allow minor infringements, though willful, to be committed with impunity, to be in effect privileged, immune from legal redress. The smaller the damages, provided there is a real, and especially a willful, infringement, the stronger the case for an award of attorneys’ fees.

That’s great, and it also shows what I keep saying: you can (and should) go after small infringements and they don’t all cost $100K to do (not even close). But, and this is a big BUT, you can only possibly get attorneys’ fees if you have registered the copyright in your work before the infringement in question starts (or within a 3-month window of first publication for published work only).

So, register your work asap after creation, go after infringers, and tell your clients you are protecting them as well as yourself by doing so. You might even consider raising your rates to reflect your added value to your clients.
Just a thought. 🙂

New Rules (probably)

The US Copyright Office is proposing new rules for registering photographs and it is asking for comments on these rules. There are three main categories with proposed changes: supplemental registrations, group registration of contributions to periodicals, and group registration of photographs.

The last one is likely the most important one for most photographers, so I want to talk about it, mostly, in this post. You can go here to read the official information(pdf), but I suspect most of you would rather poke yourself in the eye with a sharp stick as it’s written in governmental legalese. Here’re the basics you might want to know before wading into the Federal Register.

First, all group registrations of published photos (designated GRPPH) will have to be submitted electronically (no more paper options) with digital images submitted as deposit copies. Second, the maximum number of photos permitted in a single registration will be 750. Third, photographers would have to submit a separate list of all the photos being submitted as a part of the group “with a title, file name (matching the file name of the corresponding deposit copy), and in the case of GRPPH, the month and year of publication 29 (e.g., January 2016, February 2016, etc.) for each photograph in the group.” Finally, the deposit copies must be submitted in electronic form but you can send them on a disk or flash drive or upload them (with a 500MB limit per file uploaded).

Importantly, the last significant changeis that they are proposing a new category of Group Unpublished Photographs (designated GRUPH); before one could do an “unpublished collection” but this new category would replace that and have all the same requirements as the Group Published Photographs, including the 750 photos limitation and the list (but without publication dates, of course).

The only major difference between the two groups is that for published photos, the photos have to have been published within the same calendar year but the unpublished ones are not limited by time. Besides that, the groups must be only photographs and the photographs must be created by the same photographer–no mixing like 25 photos by Photo Bob and 32 photos by Photo Betty. Both the Group Published Photographs and the Group Unpublished Photographs registrations will be $55 per registration.

As always, you still may not mix published and unpublished in a single registration. That isn’t going to change with these rules chages, although I suspect that these changes may be a step in that eventual direction (maybe).

The Copyright Office is proposing to eliminate the pilot program for the Group Published registrations and to change the application process, to streamline it more. The Unpublished and the Published processes will be very much the same. Photographers will be encouraged to list the titles (and publication dates for published works) on the application itself as that will put them on the Certificate and that gives you advantages legally (I’m not going into that here, though–just do it) but, at a minimum, you’ll have to submit the list with all that information with the deposit copies (still, take the time to list the titles, it will be worth it).

Most importantly, the proposed rule would clarify that the single registration of a group confers full protection for each individual photograph in the group. That would eliminate the arguments that defendants use to try and limit the damages (or argue fair use) we see in court sometimes, like that using one image out of a registration of 500 items is de minimis since it’s only 1/500th of the whole. This is a very good thing.

To submit comments on these new proposed rules, first read the details in the pdf linked to above, then you can comment by going here. Note that comments are due by January 3, 2017.

The Supplementary Registration is used to correct errors or make changes to an existing registration. Hopefully, you’ll never need to file one, but if you do you’re very likely going to have to do it electronically in the future. For more information on the proposed changes or to make comments, go here.

If you make contributions to periodicals, you may use that form of registration (GRCP) and there are changes there as well. Mostly, it is about making the registrations electronic, much like the Group Photo options I described above (are you seeing a theme here?). Notably, the Copyright Office notes in the Group Registrations proposed changes that it encourages photographers to use those options instead of the GRCP as there are fewer limitations. Still, if you use this form of registration (and this applies to text as well as photos, by the way), you should go here to read about the changes and to submit comments.

It’s not new if it’s the same

Here is yet another sad story of the timing ofregistrationbiting creatives in the butt. The short answer is that tattoo artists didn’t register the design in tats made on NBA players (including LeBron James) when theymade them, but instead after the first infringement of the tattoosby a video game company. That is, when the players were reproduced in video games, the tats were also reproduced, and since they weren’t licensed by the tattoo artists, the copyrights in the tats wereinfringed. In 2015, after the 2013 infringements (in NBA 2K14), the artists registered the work and when the same video game used the players (with tats) again but in the NBA 2K16game, theybrought suit seeking attorneys’ fees and statutory damages of up to $1.2 million.

The court said the “new”infringements weren’t actually new but rather the game was an iterationof the original one, with the original infringements. Sincethose started before the registrations, boom, statutory damages and attorneys’ fees were barred.

Ouch.

The artists are claiming the actual damages (still available under the law) are still significant, but they’regoing to have to prove up those damages; that is going to be a bear.

Registration Nag: No. 5226

I know, you’re likely already sick of me nagging about registering your copyrights as early as possible, but until y’all stop sitting on your hands, I’m going to keep at it.Today’s juicy reason is that sometimes a new infringement isn’t new.

The Hollywood Reporter in this article talks about a recent ruling in a copyright case involvingan artist who created some famous tattoos. The artist who created art on LeBron James did not register the copyright when he created the works and when theywere infringed by a video game company (who has Mr. James in its game), twice, it was too late to get statutory damages. So the artist registered later and when the video game company released a new version of the game, the artist tried to say it was a new infringement so that he could get statutory damages and potentially attorneys’ fees. The court, however, said the new release was the same infringement as the old ones because the use was essentially identical. If aninfringement starts before registration, the bright-line rule is you can’t get statutory damages (or attorneys’ fees), so the artist can’t get statutory damages here.

In short, his $1.2million case is now likely worth, at best, a few thousand (and he’s going to have to prove up that value).

Ouch.

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(note, the photo above is not of the tattoo in question; it isn’t even a real tattoo)

Your Notice is More than CMI

 

Recently, I wrote about the importance of your CMI (copyright management information) and mentioned that using your copyright notice as a watermark is your best CMI, because it kills two birds withone stone, so to speak. In that other post I talk about the DMCA and CMI removal issues (one bird). Here’s the skinny on the other…

But first, a little about a proper copyright notice. People get the notice technically wrong often, and it matters. So, here’s what it should be, in plain English:

1.  the symbol © (that’s control + g on a Mac) or the word copyright
2. the year of first publication (see here for more on “publication” as defined by the Copyright Office)
3. the owner’s name.

An example is the image above. Since I am first publishing this article here in 2016 and I created the work and own its copyright, the proper notice for this article is as you see there. In the post about CMI from late June 2016 I mentioned earlier, I included a photo (a selfie, actually) that I shot when I was in law school in, I think, 2010, but which I had not published (meaning that it had not been offered for license or given to a client for potential further use or otherwise made available to others, as well as in the sense normal people think of published) until 2015. So, the notice there is correct: 2015 Leslie Burns. If I wrote ” 2010 Leslie Burns” for the photo, the notice would be incorrect–the year in a proper notice must bethe year the work was first published.

Okay? Cool. Now to the good stuff…

If you publish your work with a proper notice, that is a proper and visible notice (not just buried in the metadata), then an infringer of the work can’t try to claim “innocent infringement” in mitigation of statutory damages. It can’t even go there! Here’s the super good part of that: this is true even if the infringer got the work from some other source, without your notice! There are several cases that support this rule (and the rule is in 17 USC 401), but here are just two for your attorney’s dining and dancing pleasure: BMG Music v. Gonzalez, 430 F.3d 892 (7th Cir. 2005) and Maverick Recording Co. v. Harper, 598 F. 3d 193 (5th Cir 2010) (cert. denied). The second one is particularly helpful as it looks at the issue in more detail, but both make it clear that the defense is barred if the work is available with proper (and visible) notice, even if the infringer never saw that particular publication of the work.

So, going back to the CMI thing, if you use the proper copyright notice as your watermark, you get the protections I just described and, if the work gets infringed and the watermark is removed, the infringer just committed a violation of 1202 of the DMCA. Putting the pieces together, then, and assuming you have properly registered the work prior to this, your infringer is looking at a minimum of $750 (infringement) + $2500 (DMCA) in damages to you, plus maybe your attorney’s fees.

Those birds must not be chickens ’cause that’s not chicken feed.