Understanding COPYRIGHT

written by Keron James

Throughout my career as an entertainment lawyer and music business consultant I have found that many people creatively involved in the music industry pay little attention to the business of the music. Too many fail to see the link between the business of music and success in the music industry. The truth is that talent is only a small part of the puzzle and success in the music industry has more to do with business skills than talent. In this article, I will address some basic questions asked by my clients about the topic of copyright.

What is Copyright?
Copyright refers to a bundle of exclusive rights given by law to the creators of literary and artistic works. In Trinidad and Tobago a work is protected (or we may say copyrighted) upon creation regardless of its mode or form of expression. Notwithstanding this, it is important to fix the work in some tangible medium (like a CD, hard drive, on paper etc) so that you have evidence of this creation. Some of the rights included in the bundle are:
(1) the right to reproduce the work;
(2) the right to translate the work;
(3) the right to make an adaptation, arrangement or other transformation of the work;
(4) the right to make the first public distribution of the original work;
(5) the right to broadcast the work;
(6) the right to import copies of the work;
(7) the right to perform the work publicly.

Under the Copyright Act of Trinidad and Tobago, copyright lasts for the life of the author plus fifty years. After this period the work falls into the public domain and can be used by anyone without liability.

Do I have to use the © symbol or register my copyright to be protected?
Under Trinidad and Tobago laws you are protected by the sole fact of your creation. No copyright notice is therefore required in order to be protected. Notwithstanding this, the notice which typically consists of four elements (the term copyright and the symbol ©, the year of copyright, the owner’s name, and the phrase “all rights reserved) does serve as notice to others that you are claiming copyright ownership in the work. For example, Copyright © 2008 John Doe, All Rights Reserved.

In Trinidad and Tobago and much of the Caribbean, there is no copyright registration system. Despite this, it is absolutely important to establish a dated record of when you first created your work so that you can prove the date of copyright if someone challenges you. It is usually suggested that you do what is commonly referred to as the “poor man’s copyright” which refers to the method of mailing your musical work to yourself in order to establish that the work was created on or before a particular date.

Unfortunately, this is not a perfect solution because the poor man’s copyright method may be easily faked. One should also try to use additional methods to ensure sufficient evidence of the date of creation. You should consider registering the work with your local performance rights, mechanical rights and/or collective management society (e.g. COTT, COSCAP, ASCAP etc). You could also consider registering the work with the library of congress in the US.

How do I manage the use of my Copyright?
As the owner of a valid copyright you have the right to say who uses your music and to be compensated for such use. As a result, you should be careful not to allow the use of your work without clear guidelines. One way to help police your work is to join a reputable performance rights, mechanical rights and/or collective management society. These societies manage the exploitation of your copyright with respect to certain types of uses.

If you must license your work yourself, you should always consult an experienced copyright or entertainment attorney. You should typically avoid an outright sale of your copyright. Sale of copyright is usually a last resort and at a high price to the purchaser.

Final Advice
Copyright exploitation can produce tremendous returns if the owner manages his/her music business correctly. Take the time to learn more about copyright and how to protect and exploit it. Always seek the advice of an attorney experienced in the area of copyright or entertainment law before entering into any agreement for the use of your copyrighted work. Join Keron's facebook group



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