you’re a creator and are thinking you ought to start registering
your copyrights, read on.
Normally, I would tell you to just do it, and to do it now.
If you’ve got stuff that’s going to go out into the world,
that can be easily copied, that’s going to be posted on the
Web, it’s always a good idea to spend the money and get it
registered with the Copyright Office. Registration gives you
a bunch of protections you wouldn’t get otherwise, like the
ability to go to court if somebody rips you off. And yes,
it’s infinitely better than mailing yourself your work, which
is tantamount to peeing in your hat. Really. Don’t bother.
“Poor Man’s Copyright” is a myth that just won’t seem to go
Anyway, if you’re thinking about registering your stuff, don’t
do it yet! Wait a little while. Sometime this summer, the
Copyright Office is going to start accepting electronic filings
over the Internet. Not only will it be simple and maybe even
fun, the price of registering online will be $35, a $10 savings
from the paper-filing fee of $45. Digitized versions of your
work will be accepted with the filing. The Copyright Office
doesn’t come out and say it, but electronic filing will almost
definitely speed up the registration process, which has in
the past taken months and months, which can be really frustrating
if somebody’s infringing your work and you need the registration
And don’t forget, collections of works in the same media can
be registered on one application if all of the works are unpublished.
That’s a bargain. For more info, go look at copyright.gov.
Moving on. One interesting thing about intellectual-property
law in these extremely polarized times is how it seems to
have battlegrounds in a dimension that’s totally disconnected
from the whole red-state-blue-state-phony-Christian-two-faced-liberal
paradigm that seems to dominate everything else in the world.
Like this here: Last week, blowhard conservative weenie columnist
Michelle Malkin posted a video blog on her site and on YouTube
in which she blasted Senegalese rapper Akon. She included
some Akon video clips, including one of Akon dry-humping and
dragging a girl, reported to be a 14-year-old minister’s daughter,
around a stage at a nightclub in Trinidad. Malkin’s outrage
was entirely justified—although I’ve seen the clips, and if
that girl’s really 14, then, well, I’m really Karl Rove. No
matter; it would be disgusting if she were 41. And I’m not
exactly a prude.
Those nice folks at Universal Music Group, Akon’s label, demanded
that YouTube take Malkin’s podcast down, claiming the clips
included some of Akon’s precious music, for which Universal
owns the copyrights. YouTube, which is getting sued left and
right for copyright violations, quickly complied.
There’s a little problem here that involves free speech and
fair use. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization
often painted as “anti-creator” and “copy-leftist,” came to
Malkin’s aid, explaining to both Universal and YouTube that
Malkin’s use of the Akon clips was protected by the First
Amendment and the fair-use doctrine, which allow the use of
otherwise copyrighted material in conjunction with commentary
and criticism. This is basic, obvious, and fundamental. Universal
was using copyright law to stop Malkin from talking about
one of its “artists.” And that’s just not how it works.
In any event, it’s a fascinating alliance, as evidenced by
the confused ramblings of Malkin’s pathetic neocon fans in
the comments to her blog. The EFF is blasting away at Bush
administration darlings like the federal-ID program, data
mining, illegal NSA surveillance, airport-security paranoia,
and bogus electronic-voting machines, and the EFF’s championing
of Malkin’s free-speech rights is leaving the ditto-heads
a trifle dazed and confused.
It’s called consistency, fools. Shut up, look, and think for
a change, and maybe you’ll learn something.
Speaking of fair use, a video popped up on the Web this week
that’s absolutely breath-taking. A 10-minute remix masterpiece
that came out of Stanford University’s Fair Use Project uses
Disney animated characters to explain copyright law and the
fair-use doctrine, one word or short phrase at a time. What
makes this particularly dazzling is the fact that Disney has
long been the evil empire of information abuse, consistently
over-protecting its “properties” to the detriment of free
speech, even going so far as buying Congressional approval
of an extension of the statutory term of copyright 10 years
ago so that Mickey Mouse cartoons wouldn’t fall into the public
domain. As I just told a client 20 minutes ago, there’s copyright
law, and then there’s the law of Disney.
I’m sure Disney’s shiny young lawyers are wringing their hands
over this one, and they have to know that if they lift a finger
to squelch this instant classic on the Internet or anywhere
else, they’ll be buried alive. Google “fair use Disney” and
you’ll find it all over the Web. Enjoy!
Rapp is an intellectual-property lawyer with offices in Albany
and Housatonic, Mass. He teaches art-and-entertainment law
at Albany Law School, and regularly appears as part of the
Copyright Forum on WAMC’s Vox Pop. Contact info can
be found at www.paulrapp.com. Comments about this article
can be posted at rapponthis .blogspot.com.