I often get asked about copyright myths that simply aren’t true. Many times, I hear about a copyright myth found online that can be used to avoid liability and save money. These myths are usually based on misinformation gathered from forums and peer-to-peer answer sites, promising ways to get around the requirements of the governing law. Relying on these misinformed copyright myths often cause more problems than they are supposed to solve. On to some of my favorite myths!
“Post Office Copyright” or “Poor Man’s Copyright”
The myth: You can gain copyright protection by sending a copy of your work to yourself through the U.S. Postal Mail, resulting in protection as of the postmark date.
The truth: You are wasting postage. Copyright laws in the U.S. do not include provisions for protection-by-postage. Actually, the U.S. Copyright Office denies any protection by the “Poor Man’s Copyright,” clarifying that such practice is no substitute for registration. See for yourself here: http://copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html#poorman
The myth: You can’t be liable for infringement if you change at least 10% of the work.
The truth: You can be liable for infringement, even if you change 10% of the work. Distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission.
New works must display © notice or be forever lost
The myth: If a new work doesn’t include a Circle-C (©) copyright notice, all copyright protection is automatically forfeited.
The truth: The current 1976 Copyright Act no longer requires use of a copyright notice in the U.S., although placing it on your work is often beneficial. This myth is based on an older law, which had such a requirement. In fact, use of a notice is still relevant to the copyright status of older works published before January 1, 1978, which are governed by the 1909 Copyright Act. Under that law, publication of a work under the copyright owner’s authority without a proper notice of copyright resulted in a permanent loss of all copyright protection for that work in the United States.
Copyright ownership requires registration
The myth: To own a copyright, you must register it with the U.S. Copyright Office.
The truth: You own a copyright in your work of art once it is fixed to a tangible medium. U.S. copyright law provides that a work is ‘fixed’ in a tangible medium of expression when its embodiment in a copy or phonorecord, by or under the authority of the author, is sufficiently permanent or stable to let it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for more than transitory duration. A work consisting of sounds, images, or both, that are being transmitted, is “fixed” if a fixation of the work is being made simultaneously with its transmission.
But, registration of copyright is a requirement for enforcing your copyright protection through the federal courts.
Announcing that you do not own a copyright will somehow protect you from liability
The myth: Stating that you do not own a copyright will protect you from liability (such as at the end of your YouTube video).
The truth: Various situations exist where copyright infringement may occur. One situation involves making an unauthorized copy of a protected work. A statement that you do not own the work or have permission to reproduce the work does not create a barrier from liability. To the contrary, such a statement could be viewed as an admission you infringed the protected work. Additionally, merely acknowledging the source of copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.
Source: U.S. Copyright Office – www.copyright.gov