This is the digital age of music. From hip-hop and R&B to techno and dancehall genres, artists more frequently create music using programs rather than people. Even artists who create music using traditional acoustic instruments frequently convert their sound to electronically marketable media. The result is an immense collection of intellectual property. Accordingly, artists would benefit from a convenient method affording them protection for their intellectual property.

Some internet websites have risen in order to provide artists with this protection. One such website, SongRegistration.com (Song Registration), recognizes that artists may be unwilling to seek copyright registration from the United States Copyright Office with every new musical creation since some artists create music so quickly, and the process would cost the artist more (financially and otherwise) to undertake than the typical artist would preferably spend. As an alternative, Song Registration provides a method by which one may “register” their music with Song Registration through little effort.

Song Registration’s registration process is fairly simple: an artist sends their work to Song Registration, who timestamps it and holds it at a secure location. The website correctly explains that artists do not need to register their copyrights unless they plan to file an infringement suit and desire to receive other statutory benefits to filing. However, Song Registration does encourage eventual filing with the United States Copyright Office.

Song Registration appears to be a good idea. As explained on its website, it acts as a neutral third-party that proves that the artist fixated copyrightable subject matter at least by the time Song Registration received it. As the website explains, this is preferable to the “poor man’s copyright,” which involves mailing oneself the created work and retaining the unopened mailing, using the postal date as an anchoring date for fixation. The problem with this method, the website explains, is that the one seeking copyright protection usually sends the mail to an interested party—oneself or a friend—making the evidence less potent in court should an infringement suit obtain. Further, the website continues, physical mail is prone to tampering.

However, registration with businesses such as Song Registration may have drawbacks as well. First, artists who send their work to these businesses may not have valid copyrights. Song Registration, for example, exists independently of the United States Copyright Office and does not analyze whether the material that artists submit satisfy the statutory elements of a copyrightable work. In contrast, a copyright registration with the United States Copyright Office may be prima facie evidence of a valid copyright.

Second, copyright protection attaches to copyrightable subject matter at the time of fixation. That means there is a lag time between existence of the copyright and registration with Song Registration or any other site. This lag time could cause confusion with artists and the validity of their intellectual property claims. Artists may believe that “registration” with the website definitively proves that their work precedes other works, which would make infringement of these “later works” impossible. In essence, the service could promote a “first-to-file” mentality that current copyright law does not recognize. Third, even if the work contains copyrightable elements, it might nevertheless contain infringing elements as well. However, registration with a website such as Song Registration may give no such indication.

Taken together, these preliminary concerns may cause artists to place an improper confidence in the propriety of their work. Granted, the biggest artists may fare well navigating the legal landscape as they can afford attorneys to explain the complexities of the law. However, less-known artists without the benefit of regular counsel may fall victim to some of these misconceptions. Should these sites continue to receive greater use in this digital age, artists should be aware of the sites’ benefits as well as their limits.

Jason C. Palmer

 

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