I wanted to open this up to see if anyone has any questions about entertainment law, or copyright and trademark law. Post your questions in comments to this note, and I’ll try and respond and incorporate it.
Question: If I own a piece of music but I don’t want to carry the book that the music is in around with me can I copy it?
Normally, any copying of sheet music or such materials is prohibited by copyright law. However, there is the principle of “fair use” exceptions to copyright, normally used for parody and comment or criticism (ie. news and commentary). Non-profit educational purposes and personal usage purposes (like making video copies of TV shows for “time shifting” – making video tape and TIVO legal) have also received some protection. You will notice for example that iTunes lets you make up to 5 copies of one purchase of a song.
The factors looked at by courts in evaluating a “fair use” exception to copying are: the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Is making a copy of sheet music to protect the original “legal?” It’s probably not legal by the letter of the law. Realistically, if you have purchased a copy of the music and you are just making a copy to carry around to protect the original, for your own personal use and are not selling the music to others, you will probably not draw any attention and the copyright owner would not pursue you. If you start making copies for the entire choir off one purchased copy, or start selling the copies to others, that’s when it would get less sympathetic.
QUESTION: I own a website. I write articles every day. I find another that’s taking my articles and they’ve put them on their site without reference to me or my site. They’re also publishing them in a book that they sell. I’ve not taken any measures to officially “copyright” my stuff. What should I have done?
They’re infringing your copyright rights. Copyright is created automatically when you fix a work in a form, which includes when you write it in a saved file on your computer or on the internet. You don’t have to file anything or even put a (c) notice on it to be protected by law. That doesn’t give you the full protection of the Copyright Act though; for the full protection you have to file it with the Copyright Office. You should file any important creative work with the Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov as soon as it is complete. It’s only $45 to protect your work, and you can send in compilations (ie. multiple articles or songs on one disc or book). You will need to register the work before you begin a lawsuit under the Copyright Act, but if you do not register the work BEFORE you find an infringer you cannot be awarded any of the larger penalties and attorney’s fees provided by the Copyright Act.
The damages left if you didn’t register before the infringment or within three months of the first time you published the work (posting it on the net in this case) are “actual damages” (say, lost profits your missed salesof the work) and the portion of the infringer’s income which is made from the use of your articles (revenue from their website and the book with your articles). You’ll need an [expensive] expert witness to calculate and prove those at trial.