It’s amazing what you can learn in a half hour of listening. As I mentioned in my other post I think about copyright often, and while I’ve never had an issue with it, today I learned some very important things that artists should be aware of.
Full disclaimer, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. Consult your attorney if you have questions regarding copyright law.
1. There are several layers of copyright documentation. The only one that allows you to take your case to federal court (copyright law is federal law) is to document your claims by filing for copyright with the copyright office.
You have a copyright claim by virtue of creating an original work, and placing a notification on the work helps a little, but without that documentation you limit your legal options to protect your work.
2. Filing for copyright is not that expensive. You can file for copyrights online at copyright.gov, and a basic copyright filing costs $35 (source: copyright.gov/eco) if done online. You can also file for copyrights of collections, so you don’t have to file a copyright for every piece of work you’ve created. If filing for copyright of a collection, all works in the collection must have the same publication date.
3. Document, document, document. Here’s an area where I fail. The better the documentation you have on your website, and of your work in general, the better recourse you’ll have if you need to act to protect your copyrights. So if you have a website, make sure images of your work are accompanied by title, date, size, medium and if it’s for sale, put a price on it! (Full disclosure, I don’t do this at all, a situation I plan to remedy very soon!)
4. Somebody can sue to remove your copyright (This is part of what John T Unger is dealing with). I had no idea this was possible, but it is, and this is possibly worse than dealing with an infringement issue. A suit to remove your copyright claim could result in revocation of your ownership of your work, stripping you of all rights and protections over it.
5. If you get sued to have your copyrights removed, you better show up in court. If you don’t default judgement goes to the plaintiff and you lose.
Like Martina said the other day in the comments, it’s really not worth agonizing over copyright, and when I think about it myself it’s usually an internal conversation about the merits of standard copyright versus the creative commons licensing model. What is worth doing however is taking some basic steps to protect the rights you have to your intellectual property.