Proving your copyright in a digital world
Almost everyone has seen the © symbol on books, magazines, web-pages, music, or movies. It is a symbol that the creators of literary, musical, dramatic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, or architectural works often depend on to protect the value of their creativity. Yet copyright protection exists even when this symbol is not present — if you can prove it.
The United States Copyright Office Copyright Basics Circular notes:
“Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of “original works of authorship” that … can be perceived, reproduced, or communicated for more than a short time. Copyright protection in the United States exists automatically from the moment the original work of authorship is [created].”
If copyright can be proved, anyone who wants to reproduce, modify, distribute, perform, or display the creator’s work must get the creator’s permission. This “right to authorize others to exercise these exclusive rights” is how creators earn their livings.
Asserting your Rights
A creator must have a certificate of registration issued by the U.S. Copyright Office in order to be fully protected in a court of the law. If awarded:
“A certificate of registration [proves] … the validity of the copyright [if] … registered before or within five years after the work is first published [and] … The copyright owner may be entitled to claim statutory damages and attorney’s fees in an infringement lawsuit, provided that the work was registered before the infringement began or within three months after the first publication of the work”
When an application for copyright registration is submitted:
“As a general rule, the U.S. Copyright Office will not conduct its own factual investigation … to confirm the truth of the statements made in the application …. Ordinarily, the Office will accept the facts stated in the application, unless they are implausible or conflict with … other sources of information that are known by the Office.”
This deference to any claims made in an application allows the copyright registration process to be an efficient vehicle for creators protecting their livelihoods. Until someone registers YOUR property first.
But how do you PROVE it?
Authors shopping for a book deal, musicians looking for a recording contract, or artists seeking a patron are taking a tremendous leap of faith when they share their unpublished works. Since “a private display … does not constitute publication” of a work, there is a real risk that someone a creator trusts could take their work, claim it is hers or his, and be awarded a certificate of copyright registration. Since the U.S. Copyright Office does not perform an investigation before it awards a certification of registration, a creator must be ready to protect her or his work by proving its origin.
Generations of creators have proven the origin of their work by sending it to themselves via Certified Mail. This technique has often been referred to as the “poor man’s copyright.” By sending original works to themselves via Certified Mail, holding them in the sealed envelope until needed, and only opening them when directed by the court, creators can prove that the work in the envelope has both existed and remained unaltered since the envelope was sealed.
While this “poor man’s copyright” is not the same as — nor does is offer any of the protections of — a certification of copyright registration, Certified Mail has often been the only protection creators may have when fighting against a U.S. Copyright Office certificate issued to someone else based on the creator’s stolen work.
The Poor Man’s Digital Copyright
In a world where digital creation, publication, and registration are creating works that sometimes can’t even be effectively produced in physical form, stuffing your digital work into a physical envelope may no longer be an option. Add on top of this the proliferation of tools that can create anything from sophisticated forgeries to deep fakes using little more than a laptop, and it is clear why the world has recently been looking bleak for the creative class. Until now.
Trokt’s Blockchain Certified Email, built upon a neopublic blockchain network governed by some of the world’s leading legal practitioners and scholars, offers all the protections of Certified Mail for digital files. By taking any file’s “digital thumbprint” and saving it in Trokt’s distributed network, any creator can prove that any digital file — from artwork to music to creations we have yet to even understand — has remained unaltered since the moment its thumbprint was saved. No matter where the file is saved, how many times it is copied, who holds it, or what it is renamed, the Blockchain Certified Email thumbprint offers the same protection generations before retained when they opened their Certified Mail envelope in court.
In a digital world, Blockchain Certified Email protects the creative class’s livelihood.