Why "Poor Man" and "Creative Commons" Copyright Do Not Work

by Tamera H. BennettPosted October 20, 2008

Thanks to the Copyright Law Twitter from Prof. Michael Scott for this tidbit.

The indie record label Quote Unquote Records uploads its artists tracks to the its webhost to give the music away for free on its website.

The webhost for Quote Unquote Records noticed mp3 files on the server, and without receiving a DMCA Take Down Notice, contacted the label and said they needed an explanation or they were going to take the site down.

Jeff Rosenstock, the frontman and songwriter for the band The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, responded that he wrote all of the songs and they were posted with consent. The webhost said they need to see copyright certificates or the site was coming down. Well, the site came down.

Rosenstock did not have copyright registration certificates for most of the songs.

I called the company to explain that a lot of this material was NOT in fact registered with the US copyright office, instead we did the ol’ poor man’s copyright. The music that was copyrighted was done so under a Creative Commons License, which is a digital copyright that cannot be viewed if the website where the files are posted is down.

The traditional Poor Mans' Copyright is where you mail a copy of the song (CD/Tape/Flash Drive) back to yourself and do not open the envelope. People seem to think this gives you evidence of creation based on the date of the postmark. It is a waste of whatever the current cost of a stamp is these days. It gives you nothing from an evidentiary standpoint. The best evidence will always be a copyright registration.

The Creative Commons license is simply that a license. It is not a copyright registration. The license only grants rights to third parties on how the third-party downloader may use the work, it does not show evidence of ownership of the actual copyright.

Does it sound like the webhost over-stepped its bounds. Perhaps. I am not familiar of webhosts being so proactive to take a site down without a third-party demand. Maybe there's more to the story than we know.

The moral of the story… if you are going to be posting your music on the internet take the time to file a copyright application. You can now do the whole process online at www.copyright.gov.