Forgive me another “response to a Facebook hoax” post, but the recent “protect your profile by posting a copyright notice” nonsense gave me a reminder of just how poorly most Americans understand their own copyright laws.
It’s often assumed that, because I’m an artist that creates intellectual property, I support strict copyright enforcement. I certainly wouldn’t like it if someone claimed my work as their own and profited from it, and it would be great to have accessible legal recourse in a situation like that. I do not. Most artists — be they writers, musicians, performers, or visual artists — do not.
You see, in the United Stated you technically have copyright to your creation the moment is is created in a visual or audibly perceptible form (music and performance has to be noted down or recorded). It actually doesn’t matter if you put the little “c in a circle” on it or not, although it did prior to 1989.
That copyright? Utterly and entirely useless to you. It may as well not exist. You can’t sue for infringement of it. You can complain “Hey, that’s my copyrighted work you’ve stolen, you tosser!” and be absolutely correct. But legally you have no recourse whatsoever unless you register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office.
That is not free.
It’s cheaper that it used to be, because you can now do it online for $35*. Sounds cheap? You have to do that for every piece. Think about that. Sure, per album, or novel, that’s nothing. But if I registered every work of art that was by rights mine, it would likely cost me a few thousand dollars each year – every drawing, painting, or bit of self-published writing. All for the privilege of paying even more money for lawyers and court fees should someone steal my work, in the most-likely vain hope that I’d be rewarded more money that it cost me to enforce my own copyright.
That’s right: At the end of the day you enforce your copyrights. It’s your job to take people to task for stepping on them. It’s kind of like if the law said “You own everything in your house, but if someone steals it you’re responsible for getting it back from them. First, pay us a fee before the stuff is stolen. Then, hire some thugs and go get your stuff. A judge will tell you how badly you’re allowed to beat them up.”
This is all very easy for large corporations and the already-well-off. It’s entirely worthless for people like me and, most likely, you. By the way, the people most likely to violate your copyright as a small-time artist? Those same large corporations and already-successful creators. If I had a nickle for every time I heard of fellow cartoonist ripped off by Hot Topic or Todd Goldman, I could buy myself lunch.
I’m not advocating for the complete abolition of copyright law; I’d rather like access to the same protections the big kids get to flaunt. But as it exists, it’s primarily a tool for people who are probably not you. People like the powers-that-be of Facebook. It’s laughably absurd to think that invoking copyright will protect your profile from them, when you already signed your rights away when you joined.
* As of November 27, 2012. Info retrieved at http://www.copyright.gov/docs/fees.html