Copyright Infringement

You spend a great deal of time composing and creating a song and once it is written down and recorded you own the copyright of that song.  What happens if someone per se ‘rips off your music’? The answer is they infringed upon your copyright. As you know you own the copyright of your song the moment you record your song or write it down on paper.  This means you do not get a copyright by sending your song to the Copyright Office in Washington D.C.; doing this only registers your copyright. Although recommended it is not necessary to register with the copyright office to protect your work from someone from ripping off your songs.
Should someone infringe on your copyright two there are two things you must prove.  One you must prove that you own the copyright and two you must prove that the infringer had access to your song. The person accused of infringing your copyright will have to prove that they did not have access to your song therefore did not infringe upon your copyright.  Proving the infringer had access to your music can be daunting unless the infringement is from a close source such as a friend.  Should your music be played across the radio with high access across the country will be easier to prove access than for a few copies distributed in your area if the infringer happens to be across the country.
After you establish access, you must prove that the infringer's song is "substantially similar" to yours. This legal definition is purposely vague because it is up to a judge and/or jury to determine if the song is substantially similar. Infringement is considered if another band copies your song note for note without a license to use your song or if only a few bars or even a copied drumbeat can be shown to be substantially similar to your song that proves infringement upon your work.
Once you prove access and substantial similarity, the infringer can present defenses. First, he can argue that his song is an independent creation. Going back to the copied drum beat, it is conceivable that the infringer thought it up all by himself and it is only a coincidence that your song has the same drum beat. After all, there are only a limited number of drum beats. This would be proof of independent creation. In fact, it is theoretically possible that two people could create the same song with neither knowing of the other's work. Thereby it wouldn’t be infringement unless you can prove they copied your song.  You do not have to prove that the infringer stole your song on purpose. It can be infringement even if the copying was done subconsciously. The copyright owner has to prove a lot of things, but intent to steal is not one of them.
If you prove someone infringed your copyright, then everyone who commercially exploited that song that infringed upon your copyright is also an infringer. Therefore, a record company who puts out the song, even though they had no reason to realize it was infringing your copyright is still liable. This re-emphasizes the fact that you do not have to prove someone deliberately infringed your copyright.
Now that you have proved ownership, access and substantial similarity and countered all the defenses and proved infringement, how are you compensated for said infringement? The Copyright Act provides various remedies. First, you are entitled to an injunction, which is a court order forbidding the infringer from distributing any more copies of the work in question. Second, you are entitled to actual damages. Actual damages are what harm you suffered from the infringement. These damages are determined by how much the value of your song has been diminished by the infringer's version. Also you can be compensated or awarded any profits. It can be ruled that you are entitled to some of the profits the infringer made off of your song.
Although it is not necessary to register your work with the Copyright Office, if you are planning to sue you will have to have your song in question registered before you can sue.  So it is recommended that all songs you and your band have recorded be registered individually or as a compilation.  The sooner you register your music after creation the stronger you case can be if infringement is involved.  Registering your copyright gives you two additional remedies which are unavailable to those who do not register. First, you are entitled to attorney's fees that are paid by the infringer should you win the case. These can be very important because otherwise, you will have to pay your attorney, win or lose. Finally, you are entitled to statutory damages. Since the damages discussed above can be difficult to prove a judge can award you statutory damages to compensate you for your infringed upon work.

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