John Snyder is the founder and president of the Artists House Foundation, a nonprofit music company dedicated to creating educational presentations in several areas, including instruction for instruments, master classes, careers in the arts, and legendary performers

The following article is the beginning of your journey to self-reliance. Understanding your rights under the Federal copyright statutes is the first step towards creating revenue from those rights. In the articles that follow this, we will continue to drill down into the topic in coming weeks by exploring each right individually, its limitations and opportunities, how these rights can be made to produce income, and the agreements that govern those transactions. It’s a beautiful trip and you’ll love it, so, bon voyage! Feel free to comment and ask questions and tune in for our weekly webcast beginning at the end of August for more information and interaction.

The magic of copyright is simple: you render an original work in a tangible form, that work is copyrighted. Under federal copyright statutes you have, at that moment in time, six exclusive rights that attach to that work that you own. (That’s assuming you haven’t already somehow managed to sign away your rights.) The words “original”, “work”, “tangible”, “author” have definitions, rules and exceptions, but it’s pretty simple really: if you made it up and you made it real by writing it down or typing it in or recording it, it’s copyrighted and it’s yours.

The first two of those six exclusive rights are the right to copy and the right to distribute. That makes you a publisher or a record company or both. The right to control the public performance of your music makes you a radio station. The point is this is something that just happened to you. You really don’t have a lot to say about it: you are a business whether you like it or not. You have then two choices, run your business responsibly and successfully or not.

“What about mailing my song to myself”, you ask. Do not mail it to yourself! That is stupid (check the switch!). About the only thing that can do for you is become evidence in a copyright infringement suit, which you can’t even initiate until you register your copyright with the US copyright office anyway! You want to mail it to somebody? Mail it to them!

Just do it: go to the copyright office and register your work. (You can register a bunch of them on one form and save some money, since you’re broke.) You register to get the remedies for infringement and to be able to sue someone who’s used your stuff without your permission. You don’t register to get your rights, you already had those.

Got it? OK, you need to know generally more about “business” and specifically, you need to know more about how to make money from (i.e., monetize) the rights you have under copyright law. We’re going to tell you about that and we’re going to go over contracts, licenses, and agreements as well. Remember, the work is YOURS, so when you transfer it, license it, sell it, YOU are in control. If you have to make a bad deal because you need the cash or the exposure, at least you’ll know the trade-offs.

Our motto is: you didn’t know till we told you now we told you now you know. So, you’ll be hearing the phrase “now you know” a lot. What that means is: now you’re responsible; now it’s on you.

OK, I’m passing it on to George at this point, and he’ll take you through some specifics in the coming weeks. Remember this one last thing: copyright protection is in the Constitution of the United States, ratified by all thirteen original states in 1790. The roots of copyright go back hundreds of years before that. Article I of the Constitution lists the powers of the legislative branch of our government, of Congress. Protection of the creative work is one of the powers granted to the Congress. It comes right after the power to print money and before the power to declare war or sign treaties. THIS IS IMPORTANT! This means that your “work” is considered to be so valuable to the culture and the society that it is protected in the country’s founding document.

YOUR creativity is protected by the United States Constitution! You have the ability to create wealth from your imagination! And Federal laws give YOU exclusive rights that you can “monetize”. So, monetize them! You have great advantages as a musician, as an artist: you are naturally entrepreneurial, you understand method (you can create goals and make plans that achieve them – it’s call practicing!), and you can create wealth from your imagination. So, without even stirring a pot or buying a lottery ticket, you are a business, with assets that can generate revenue. That’s also called “rent money” and “food money”. How lucky are you? Now you know.

John Snyder
August 2, 2010

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