Three myths about copyright that just won’t go away

As an attorney who works in the area of intellectual property, it pains me to see various notions about copyright persist, despite having little or no factual basis. Hopefully this post can help clear up these myths and keep creators on the right side of copyright law.

Myth #1 – Mailing a copy of your work to yourself to prove the date of creation, a.k.a. the “Poor Man’s Copyright”

It is anything but foolproof.This is a big one that I was actually taught about when in school for animation. Essentially, rather than spending the money to register a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, you mail yourself a copy of the work. The sealed envelope that comes back to you has a date affixed by the post office, thereby proving that you created the work before any others.

There are a few problems with this mythical copyright method. First, it isn’t necessary! You get a copyright on the work as soon as it is “fixated in a tangible medium of expression,” be it a drawing, writing, or video of dance choreography. There is no requirement that the envelope be sealed, dated, or anything else. Registration is required, however, if you plan to use the courts to enforce your rights. Second, this method can be easily faked. It is anything but foolproof. Third, it really isn’t very expensive or difficult to register a copyright for real. If you work is valuable enough to you to go through the trouble of mailing it to yourself, spend the money and register for real. I should have a post coming soon on how to do it yourself.

Myth #2 – “No copyright infringement is intended” as a get-out-of-jail-free card

I’ve seen countless YouTube videos that contain infringing content, which are prefaced by a disclaimer that “No copyright infringement is intended.” It’s the copyright equivalent of saying “No offense, but…” and following it with something offensive. A copy is a copy, regardless of intentions. Declaring that no infringement is meant does not make something not an infringement. The proper way to display the work of others is to get permission (a license) to make a copy. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be using it in the first place.

Myth #3 – “It’s not copyrighted, because it doesn’t have the © symbol. Therefore, I can use it all that I want.”

However, notice is not a requirement any longer.Due to the popularity of the © symbol, many assume that this is necessary in order to claim copyright in a work. While this myth has some basis in reality, it’s simply not true. Prior to the Berne Implementation Act of 1988, notification of copyright was required. However, notice is not a requirement any longer. Using this as an excuse to infringe is not going to hold up in court.

Next week, I will discuss another three myths about copyright that just won’t die. If you have any questions about copyrighting your work, contact your favorite game attorney.

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