Your 2020 To-Do/Please Don’t List

As we wrap up 2019 and start to look ahead, I thought I would give up some of my best thoughts on both business and legal issues, for creative pros, in list form. I think I should to warn you, though, I’m not holding back on the language. I think someone needs to play Carol Kane in Scrooged to the creative industries and, well, I’m just the broad to do it.

So, here’s what you should/should not do for your business in 2020:

  1. If anyone talks about ROI or value propositions or anything else that smacks of weasel-in-a-suit when it comes to your marketing, run away. All that shit is dead. Sure, you want to get the best bang for your buck, but the most effective marketing for a creative business is simply not quantifiable. Lest you forget, you are not selling widgets or some service that anyone can do, but rather a very specialized service that has virtually no competitors. Much of that MBA mumbo-jumbo just doesn’t apply to highly specialized service providers, and all artists are (or should be) exactly that. Despite our hyper-image-based social media world, your marketing today needs to be honest, real, and a reflection of who you really are. I sure as hell hope you are not a “suit.” Stay away from buzzwords–don’t use them and be skeptical of those who do.
  2. Forget about old selling tools like “elevator speeches.” Look, when you shill, no one gives a shit who you are or what you do. It’s totally off-putting to get the spiel–be that at a party or (yikes) in an actual elevator. Car salesman-esque. Fake. Ew.
    My “elevator speech” is I’m a lawyer for creative professionals. That’s it, because all I’m doing is answering the question “What do you do?” Why only this? Because I’m not pushing the sale (that is very old and disliked) and I leave space for a dialogue by NOT answering all the implied questions (see #3). I’m letting go of trying to control the interaction and, in so doing, get better results.
  3. When meeting someone new, especially a target, after saying that you are a commercial artist of whatever stripe you are, always follow up with a question (or more than one) about the other person: Do you work on the Widget campaign? What other ones? Who’s your dream to work with? etc. And respond honestly to their responses and use follow-up questions: I love the Widget work–where did you find that actor? You are a hell of a lot more interesting to a potential target when you are interested in her/him, especially (in this context) his/her work (it’s good to do research on your targets ahead of time so you know enough to have questions).
  4. SEO is a waste of your time. People who sell SEO services are the used-car salesmen of the 21st century. The reality is that Google has like 97% of search traffic and it manipulates its results something wicked. Really, chasing that SEO goal is wasted effort. Moreover, good buyers are not using Google to find their creative providers. At best they may do an image search of some kind (mostly for inspiration, not to hire) and then that’s going to be more about effectively using your work’s metadata than “optimizing” your site.
    Yes, we all know of someone who got a great gig from Google: and that person is the exception, not the rule. It’s like what we do often with dating: we hear about the one friend of a friend who ended up getting happily married after the guy/woman didn’t call forever and we think that can happen to us. We could get hit by lightening, too. Probably better odds of that.
    4.a Anything blockchain or AI-related as some sort of saviour tool for creative businesses is also total crap.
  5. Put on your big boy/girl panties and, for the love of Buddha, stop whining that you can’t do X or Y. I’m so tired of hearing “Yeah, great idea, but I can’t do that,” like you’re somehow different. That attitude is bullshit: yes, you can do it, whatever “it” is. It might be hard and it may be risky, but you can do it. I don’t care what it is, almost always you can find a way. Just get a set already. Look at me: I started law school when I was over 40 and had my marriage blow up before my first set of exams; I started my own business first in 1999, then again as a lawyer. Life ain’t always easy, but it’s worth it. Business is often hard and there are no guarantees. You want a guarantee, buy a blender. You want to be a creative pro? Accept that it is tantamount to doing the flying trapeze, without a net. Let go and have fun with that. You chose to be an artist–stop whining about the risks. Be a friggin’ ARTIST, unapologetically.
    5.a. The answer to the question But what if someone doesn’t like my work? is always Fuck ’em. In short, they aren’t your target audience.
  6. The “trick”to business is finding the right people to market to. Actually, this isn’t that hard: when you see work you love and that you wish you could have been a part of, research who made that work and add them to your marketing lists. Like attracts like. See Number 3, above. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those people–it’s not like they’re going to have you killed if they’re not interested in working with you; they’ll just say “no.” More importantly, they might say “yes.”
  7. Make art for yourself, as often as you can. Don’t create for any other reason (like to specifically make something for your portfolio) but rather create for the love of creating and for making the work that excites you. Don’t worry if it’s good or right or what you should be doing, just make some damn art for you (see 5.a. above). That is your job and you have to do it for your business just as much as you have to pay your web hosting bill.
  8. Get out of your office/out from behind your computer and interact with people. Social media is a form of connection but it’s a weak and highly manipulated one. You want to get work, you need to meet people in real life. Yes, that means actual meetings. It means traveling to the places where your targets are and meeting with them there or putting on events to get them to where you are. Go to portfolio shows. Oh, and at the end of any portfolio meeting, do NOT ask for a job on the spot. They hate that. You are not selling, you are marketing–it’s a long game.
    Getting out also means going to events connected to your targets, like AIGA presentations, Ad Club events, or even lectures by lawyers (look up your closest Lawyers for the Arts chapter). Take people to lunch (or bring it with you), throw studio parties, put yourself out there. And have fun with it!
  9. Register your damn copyrights. Please. I beg you. If you are a creative professional, stop making excuses and start doing this. There are services, but I don’t recommend using any of them because the resulting registrations might not be anything more than maybe adequate and they might possibly be 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 hard anyway, particularly for visual artists and even more so for still photographers.
    9a. 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, and do number 10.
  10. Pursue Infringers. 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 believe in fighting for the “little” artist and, besides, small cases simply do add up. Let’s say you have small value infringements, but a bunch of those that are worth $2500 average settlement (that number is just for sake of argument). 10 of those cases over the year is $25K. Now, let’s say your attorney gets 36% of that: you’re still pocketing $16K.  How about 20 cases and $32K in your bank? I have clients who make 6-figures annually because they register their work and go after the infringers–some bring in $2500, some bring in much more. Don’t wait for the CASE Act (which may never pass)–you can register work today and for infringements that start after that registration, you can wield the enhanced remedies stick!
  11. I don’t care what any consultant or other artist tells you, separate out your Usage Licensing Fee from your Creative Fee. Better yet, make sure the License Fee is where most of the “cost” lies. As more and more work is getting ripped off you need to be able to prove the value of your license (even if you are going for statutory damages–it helps) and you just can’t do that if you use a combined fee on your estimates and invoices. The other side will have a great argument that most of that number is the Creative/Shoot Fee and you get screwed a second time. Why do you think buyers say they want them combined? Because it benefits their companies, not you. They are protecting their asses–you need to look after your own.
    You can do this if you want to make sure not to piss off a buyer: on the cover/summary page of your estimate (and invoice!) you lump your numbers together into two main categories (Fees, Production Charges) so that there is a simple, one-page overview for the buyer to glance at. Inside, however, you break out every Fee and Production Charge, line item by line item, and make sure to line item the License Fee separately.
  12. Speaking of fees, increase your rates in 2020, especially your license fees. Every creative pro who does this is terrified the first time. I have, however, never heard anyone regret it later. You may lose some clients, but really, you needed to kick those cheapskates to the curb already. Ever notice the inverse relationship between budget and pain-in-the-assishness? Why bend over backwards for the clients who nickel and dime? Just stop. Demand more money and you will get more money and you will respect yourself more.
  13. Watermark your visual art. Do this and, for bonus points, make it a proper copyright notice. See here for the details but, the short answer is that if you do that you (a) have a stronger case for willful infringement (more money); (b) eliminate the “innocent infringement” defense; and (c) if it gets removed, then you may have a good case for a lawyer to help with even if you have not registered the copyright and can’t prove your damages!
  14. Get your paperwork in order. Yeah, I know, contracts are not sexy but they are a very necessary evil in business. Get contracts drafted for you by your own lawyer so that your interests are in first position. If the other side insists on using theirs (yeah, big companies can be bullies), get those reviewed by your own lawyer. Have releases and licenses crafted for your needs. Think you can’t afford that? Think more about how signing one bad contract can wipe you out. Besides, not all lawyers demand insane retainers to be there for you. Check out my Burns Less program for a very cost-effective option (by the way, I am not the only lawyer with alternative fee structures!).
  15. This last item is the most important: be yourself and be proud of yourself in everything you do. Honesty, ethical behavior, and real connections are what will make your business successful now. Have convictions and don’t apologize for them. Most of all, be passionate about your work. That’s what I’m demonstrating here. Sure, some people are going to be offended by my language and/or say it’s inappropriate in business, but in creative businesses (including lawyering for creatives), being real beats convention, every time. So here I am: I swear (in multiple languages even), I’m passionate, and I’m unconventional, but most of all I want y’all to succeed and I work hard to make that happen. I love my work, even though there are days when I want to throttle certain infringers and set fire to certain online platforms. I’ll tell a client when I think s/he/they are making a bad choice and I’ll fire a client who isn’t ethical. A few years back I decided to be more real and open with my thoughts and opinions–I’ve never regretted it and most of my clients and readers have appreciated it.

    For the others who don’t, well, see number 5.a., above.

Registration Needed, or Not?

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court clarified that a work’s copyright has to have been registered (or had registration refused, but let’s not go there for now) in order to bring a suit for copyright infringement. [1] No longer would applying for the registration be enough–you had to have that certificate in hand when you file suit. So there will likely be a ton of confusion when people start talking about the ruling that came down in Texas last week [2] in which the court ruled that a failure to register a work didn’t kill a copyright case.

Not to bury the lede: the Texas case was not an infringement case, technically; it was a case with a claim for improper removal of the owner’s copyright management information (CMI) under Section 1202. Hence the different result.

In the ruling, the Texas court points out that, although Section 1202(b) includes language about how the removal must be connected to an infringement, it is not a claim for infringement. The court then explains that the plain language of section 1202 does not indicate that the registration requirement under Section 411 applies and that, furthermore, a claim under 1202 is not an infringement claim but rather a claim for removal or alteration of CMI. While there is an infringement underlying the removal of CMI, the claim under 1202 is about the scienter (a fancy legal word for “knowledge”) of the infringement, not the infringement itself. The court then explains (citing the same SCOTUS opinion mentioned above):

Although a DMCA claim requires the defendant to know of potential infringement, such requirement does not necessitate registration because infringement can occur absent registration. A copyright owner’s exclusive rights vest at the time of the creation of the work, and infringement occurs any time those rights are violated, even if registration has not occurred.

This is going to confuse lots of non-lawyers (and probably more than a few lawyers). Let me try to explain, roughly. Infringement happens whether or not a work is registered. That is, the copyright in a work comes into creation the moment the work is made (“fixed in a tangible medium”). At that moment, the creator (usually) owns the copyright in that work and has the rights in and to that work. When that work is copied illicitly, the copyright is infringed. However, an artist whose copyright is infringed cannot file suit for that infringement unless that work’s copyright is registered before the case is filed. The registration is the key that unlocks the court’s door, so to speak, for an infringement claim. Registration gives an artist standing (legalese for the right to bring a specific claim to court). So, the artist has to register the work, even after the infringement, to get to sue for that infringement[3]. However, since CMI removal (or the addition of false CMI, under subsection a) is not a claim for infringement, the artist does not need to have registered the copyright in the work to have standing for the CMI-related claim.

Now, standing is claim-specific, so just because one has standing for a CMI related claim under 1202, one doesn’t get to throw in an infringement claim. No sneaking around the rules–each claim needs its own key to unlock its own door, to continue the metaphor. If you filed a complaint with a 1202 claim and an infringement claim, without a registration, the infringement claim would get dismissed for lack of standing but the 1202 claim would stay. Got it?

So, the skinny is that you still need a registration to sue for infringement, but you can bring a claim related to your CMI without registration. While the statutory damages are from $2500-$25,000 for each 1202 claim, less than the max $30,000 for non willful or $150,000 for willful infringement (assuming the registration was timely, i.e., before the infringement or within 3 months of the work’s first publication), it still isn’t nothing. Proving a CMI claim is more complicated because of that scienter requirement I mentioned earlier, but it’s worth considering the next time you find your unregistered work infringed. But, as mentioned, that’s only if you have visible CMI on or immediately adjacent to your work in the first place, as I explain here.

This stuff is complicated. Please seek personal legal advice before proceeding on any of these claims, including sending that angry email you may really want to send when you find your work being used without your consent. You can run any infringement/CMI claim by me for free review by using the form here.
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[1] Fourth Estate Pub. Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC, 139 S. Ct. 881 (2019).
[2] Diamondback Industries, Inc. v. Repeat Precision, LLC, et al., Case No. 4:18-cv-902A (ND Texas 2019), available at https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.txnd.309307/gov.uscourts.txnd.309307.83.0.pdf
[3] Unless you register the work (a) within three months of its first publication anywhere by you, or (b) before the infringement started, you won’t be able to get statutory damages or attorney’s fees, but you will still be able to file suit.

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.

Safe Harbors, Piracy, and Your Value

I could write on this issue, but I’ll save the time and point you toDavid Newhoff over at Illusion of More. In this post, Mr. Newhoff discusses the differences and, importantly, the similarities facing artists in the USA as compared to the Canadians when it comes to the (false) promises made by tech to improve the lives of artists. Miranda Mullholland made a wonderful and passionate speech to the Economic Clubof Canada about her (and others’) life as a musician–one who works her ass off but who barely makes a living. Watch her video and read Newhoff’s comments. I won’t reiterate it all here.

I will say this, though:

  • You make the art, be it music, photographs, design, illustrations, and it is art–the platforms can’t be successful without you.
  • Stop calling the art you createcontent and stop letting people rip you off both directly and by devaluing what you do (like, by calling it content).
  • Don’t rip off anyone else and support all other artists, yes, even (especially) when it costs you more.

The No-Pin Tag (who knew?)

I dont like Pinterest.

Anyone who knows me knows Ive complained about it since I first learned of it. In my opinion, its business model is based on exploitation of creative works, mostly without the authorization of the creators/copyright owners of the works. All its money has been generated on the back of creatives, few of whom ever get any real benefit from it.

One of the things I do not like about Pinterest is how it not only exploits the safe harbor of the DMCA (takedown process) to protect itself, but also it flips the entire idea of how copyright is supposed to work on its head. In short, rather than making its platform opt-in, it forces creators to opt-out.

Normally, to use (copy, publish, display, etc.) a creative work, first you have to ask permission. If Pinterest wanted to do things in a creator-friendly way, it would have set up its system so that creators could opt-in to have their works (that appear on their websites) eligible to be included on Pinterest. Instead, Pinterest will permit any work to be posted from any creators site onto its site unless the creator blocks her/his/its work or site. Essentially, that is an opt-out requirement. That is dirty pool, in my opinion; its flipping the burden.

Regardless of my personal feelings, that is how it works. According to Pinterest itself, if youd like to block your work, you can do so by virtue of including a bit of code into your websites code. That code is called the no-pin tag. See https://help.pinterest.com/en/articles/prevent-people-saving-things-pinterest-your-site, which says:

If you don’t want people to save things to Pinterest from your website, just paste this code into the <head> section of any page on your site:

<meta name=”pinterest” content=”nopin” />

When someone tries to save things to Pinterest from your site, they’ll see thismessage:This site doesn’t allow saving to Pinterest. Please contact the owner with any questions. Thanks for visiting!

You can also prevent any individual image from being used by (as the page cited above notes):

add this tag to [the single image]:

<img src = “foo.jpg” nopin = “nopin” />

Now, I had no idea until today that there was such a thing as a “no-pin tag.” I’m a copyright attorney and I’ve pursued infringers on Pinterest before, and yet even I didn’t know about this. Crazy. But now I do and that’s why I’m telling you about it, as soon as I could.

I honestly dont know any creative pro who is making money from her/his/their work being taken from her/his/their own site and used on Pinterest. At best, I know of a few who have shot for corporate or advertising clients who then used the work on Pinterest, but they got paid by their client(s) for the license. Pinterest is, I think, a trojan horse of a site that scares people into thinking “I have to let people pin my work so that they see it and I get hired!” but, really, it doesn’t work that way. Housewives in Podunk, USAare unlikely to hire you.

Putting on my marketing consultant hat for a minute, I would never recommend a creative permit work to be used on Pinterest without a paid license. Instead, keep your work on your own site, preferably with a watermark on each work and a proper copyright notice on or next to each work, too. Register the copyright in your works asap after creation. Embed the no-pin tag on your site. Then, if your work gets used, including pinned, without your permission, go after the infringer and protect your rights.

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.

CMI and the DMCA

As a creative professional, you have a gazillion acronyms and abbreviations in your vocabulary. Here’s another one you should know: CMI.

CMI stands for Copyright Management Information and, generally speaking, it is data that identifies the copyright owner of a work. For example, on the photo above you’ll see my watermark in the form of a copyright notice in the lower right. That watermark is CMI.

In my opinion, you should always have visible CMI on any visual art (or, frankly, any creative work) you put out into the world. Why? Easy, under the DMCA (the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, another acronym for your vocab), CMI is protected. CMI functions as identification that the work is yours and, if your work is infringed and the CMI is removed or altered without your authority, you have extra tools to wield.

Specifically, if your work is infringed and the CMI is removed or altered, the infringer has committed at least one (and possibly two) violations of Section 1202 of the DMCA. Each violation carries statutory damages of not less than $2,500 and not more than $25,000, and the prevailing party may get its attorney’s fees and costs too. Oh, and the work doesn’t have to be registered for you to be eligible for those damages (but register your work, m’kay)!

Also, removal of visible CMI is strong evidence that an infringement is willful. If your work is timely registered (and, please, register all your work), willfulness increases the maximum statutory damages from $30,000 to $150,000. Even if you are unlikely to get the maximum (and, here on planet reality, you are unlikely to get the maximum in most cases), willfulness will be a factor in setting the statutory damages higher overall. So you really should have visible CMI on your work.

Best practice is to use a proper copyright notice like mine (although it doesn’t have to be that size–just visible and readable). A proper notice is the © (or the word “copyright”) and the year of first publication of the work (note that is not the year of creation, unless they are the same of course) and the copyright owner’s name (not your url, not your biz name unless your biz owns the work as opposed to you, personally). Note that you don’t have to have registered your work to use the symbol (unlike for trademarks where you can only use ® for registered trademarks).

Using a proper copyright notice kind of kills two birds with one stone (a post for a different day) so I encourage doing that. Still, any visible watermark that identifies the owner of the work will very likely count as CMI, so you can use something other than the notice, if you insist (but I will give you the squinky eye for that).

What is important is that the watermark must identify the owner for it to count as CMI. You can’t just put anything on there and have it count. Today, I saw a tweet by Image Rights that suggested putting its”protected by Image Rights” watermark on works to “help protect” the work. While maybe using that might discourage someone from using the work, that watermark will not count as CMI, so I don’t think it’s a good idea to use it. I mean, you could, but then you’d also have your own CMI watermark on the work as well. With all that on a work, it’s going to get pretty crowded and likely lose whatever marketing value displaying the work may generate.

For what it’s worth, your own watermark also functions for marketing purposes. Credit lines (while also CMI if posted adjacent to the work, and so its removal is a violation) don’t usually travel with a work when it gets ripped off or legitimately shared on sites like Facebook.

Finally, when you discover an infringement and realize that you haven’t properly, timely registered the work, the DMCA violation(s) may make the case something that an attorney would be willing to take on a contingency fee basis, since the potential recovery is more than just actual damages. If for no other reason than that, I suggest artists should make sure to use CMI-proper watermarks!