Making money in the creative industry requires you to be meticulous about protecting your intellectual property. To avoid perpetuating the myth of the starving artist, you need to take your creative head off and put your business head-on.
Remember when your teachers or professors gave you handouts they had photocopied from a book? Do you think they wrote to the book’s author or publisher and asked permission each time they wanted to share a page with students? No. They relied on a principle called fair use.
How do you define fair use of your intellectual property?
If someone has used your intellectual property (IP) without your permission, you need to understand if they have broken any laws. The Fair Use Statute of the U.S. Copyright Act sets out four things to consider: What, what for, how much, and so what?
- What did they use? Not all work is equal here. It depends on things such as whether you had already published the work, is it fiction or non-fiction, is it educational, and what distribution it already has.
- What did they use it for? Did a teacher take your song score and teach their music class to play it for the Christmas play? Or did another artist rejig a few words and release it as theirs?
- How much did they use? Has someone used the same 10-second sequence of musical notes, or have they ripped the whole 15-minute prog-rock guitar solo?
So what does that mean for you? You will not suffer much if the fourth grade sings your song at the school play. Yet, if Beyonce and Jay-Z don Santa hats and release your song as a Christmas duet, you might miss out on millions.
If you are unsure about your legal rights as a creative professional, you need to find out more. The sooner you do, the sooner you can put the necessary protections in place.