Founding Partner and Managing Member at Johnson Moss L.L.C.
Copyright is a form of protection granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a
tangible medium of expression. This means that the work must be an original creation, not
copied, and it must be somehow fixed or recorded so that a copy of the work exists. For
example, if the poem is just in your head, it is not protected by copyright. However, as soon as
you write the poem down on paper or perhaps record yourself speaking the poem, copyright
protection attaches to your work. Copyright protection inures or attaches at the time the work is
created in fixed form. Copyright protects both published and unpublished works. As a result,
you don’t have to publish your poem, song or other literary or artistic work to the general public
in order to have it protected by copyright. Copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical
and artistic works including writings, artwork, photographs, poetry, songs, movies, sculptures,
architectural plans and drawings.
Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was recently sued for copyright infringement by the
songwriter of the popular song “Eye of the Tiger”. Huckabee played the song at a campaign
event. How can a songwriter sue someone for just playing their song in public? The answer is
that anyone who violates the exclusive rights of the copyright owner is an infringer of the
copyright of the author and can be held liable for copyright infringement. A copyright owner
has the exclusive right to: 1) reproduce the work in copies, 2) prepare derivative works based
upon the work, 3) distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of
ownership, lease, lending or rental, 4) perform the work publicly, 5) display the copyrighted
work publicly, and 6) in the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly or by means
of a digital audio transmission. Prior to filing a lawsuit in federal court for copyright
infringement, the work must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. In other words, a
registered copyright is a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit for copyright infringement.
In the lawsuit brought against Huckabee, the songwriter is alleging that Huckabee publicly
performed his copyrighted song publicly without his permission. This is a clear violation of the
copyright owner’s exclusive right to perform the work publicly. If you play copyrighted songs at
your place of business regularly or plan to play copyrighted songs at a public event, you need to
make sure that you are doing so with the proper license or with the permission of the copyright
owner in order to avoid a possible lawsuit for copyright infringement.