Five Persistent Myths About Copyright

Five Persistent Myths About Copyright
by Susan Basko, esq.

There is a set of 5 myths about copyright that persist and seem to be spreading via the internet. Always keep in mind that Copyright has to do with the "Right to Copy."  The person who makes a creative, original work and sets it into tangible form (such as writing, drawing, recording) is (almost always) the one that owns the copyright and is the one that has the right to copy it and to decide if anyone else gets to copy it or use it.

Translation: Copyright = the Right to Copy.

 Here are some of the most common folkloric falsehoods about copyright law:

MYTH #1: If it's on the internet, it's in the public domain.  FALSE.  This is a very common idea that actually makes no sense.  Creative works enter the public domain after copyright wears out because of passage of time, which under current law, is the life of the creator plus 70 years after their death.  While there are works of art and music and writing that are on the internet that are in the public domain, such as pictures of very old paintings and old classical or folk music, anything that was created within the past 70 years cannot possibly be in the public domain.  Putting something onto the internet might be a means of "publishing" the work, as defined in copyright law, but it has nothing to do with public domain.

Translation: Just because it's on the internet does not give anyone else the right to use it.

MYTH #2: If you buy a work of art, you can do whatever you want with it.  FALSE.  No, not if it is painting, drawing, print, sculpture or still photograph that is a single piece made for exhibition or in an edition of 200 or fewer signed and numbered copies.  A 1990 law called VARA or Visual Artists Rights Act creates a sort of caretaker stewardship in any owner of such an art work, and allows the creator these rights:

  • right to claim authorship
  • right to prevent the use of one's name on any work the author did not create
  • right to prevent use of one's name on any work that has been distorted, mutilated, or modified in a way that would be prejudicial to the author's honor or reputation
  • right to prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification that would prejudice the author's honor or reputation
A more famous artist can prevent the destruction of an art work they have created.  Under this law, in 2018, a court awarded $6.7 million dollars to a group of 21 graffiti artists whose works were destroyed by a building developer.  Their graffiti art was painted onto a New York City building called 5 Pointz that had been artist studios for many years.  When the developer demolished the building to build condos, he destroyed their graffiti art work, in violation of the VARA law.

Translation: If you own a work of fine art, you are its caretaker and there are laws about what you can and cannot do with the art.

MYTH #3. If you take someone else's art work and change it 10%, it becomes yours and you can claim it as your own.  FALSE.  If you take someone else's art work and make changes to it, you are creating a DERIVATIVE WORK, and you need permission from the artist/ copyright owner of the original work to do that.  Creating a derivative work without permission from the copyright owner of the work you are riffing off is copyright infringement and can cost you $150,000 in statutory damages.

Translation: Stealing art is stealing art, even if you change it a bit.

MYTH #4. If you use someone else's work but do not make any money, it's okay. FALSE.  Copying someone else's creative work is copyright violation, whether the infringer makes money or not.  When an art work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, the artist may get statutory damages in a copyright infringement lawsuit.  Statutory damages on copyright are very high -- about $150,000, even if the artist cannot prove damages.  This is supposed to act as a deterrent to keep people from infringing copyright.  Writing apologies or notices such as, "No copyright infringement intended," has no legal effect, though it might make the copyright owner dislike you less.

Translation:  Even if you do not make any money by using someone else's copyright registered work, you might end out owing them $150,000 in statutory damages.

MYTH #5.  It's okay to use someone else's art because:  they'll never find out, there is nothing they can do, copyright lawsuits are too expensive, I'm on the other side of the world, I got hired by a company to do this, I feel like this art should belong to everyone. FALSE.  Most artists have fans and friends who will rush to tell them if they see someone stealing their art.  Googling images also makes it easy to find stolen art and counterfeits.  Copyright lawsuits are very expensive, but there is a whole array of other remedies that cost nothing other than time, including having your products removed off Amazon and Etsy and other sites, having your pictures removed off Facebook and imgur, having your products removed out of physical stores and markets, causing your links to go dead on Youtube product and unboxing videos, removing your products and store off printing sites.  Amazon and other sites got a lot more cautious about hosting and selling stolen art and counterfeit goods after several high profile lawsuits cost them tons of money.  If you expect Amazon to collude with you in your sale of shirts and posters adorned with counterfeit art, think again, because that jig is up.

Translation: If you're thinking of stealing art, think again.

Amicus Brief filed by Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

a relief sculpture of "hell," which appears to have all broken loose in the court battle between Jason Lee Van Dyke and Thomas Retzlaff
Amicus Brief from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press 
in Support of Thomas Retzlaff in Van Dyke v Retzlaff
re: TCPA Should Apply in Federal Court

November 28, 2018. The following amicus brief was filed today by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 39 Media Organizations in support of Thomas Retlaff in a lawsuit filed against him by Jason Lee Van Dyke, a lawyer and Chairman of the Proud Boys.  The amici argue that the Texas Citizens Participation Act, or TCPA, which is the Texas Anti-SLAPP statute, should apply in Federal Court cases. 

The amici are: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, American Society of News Editors, Associated Press, The Associated Press Media Editors, Association of Alternative Newsmedia (“AAN”), California News Publishers Association (“CNPA”), Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting (“CIR”), Courthouse News Service, Dow Jones & Company, Inc., The E.W. Scripps Company, First Amendment Coalition, First Look Media Works, Inc., Fox Television Stations, LLC, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, Gannett Co., Inc., Hearst Corporation, International Documentary Assn., Investigative Reporting Program, Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, The McClatchy Company, The Media Institute, Digital First Media, MPA – The Association of Magazine Media, National Press Photographers Association, National Public Radio, Inc., The New York Times Company, News Media Alliance, Nexstar Media Group, Inc., Online News Association, POLITICO LLC, ProPublica, Radio Television Digital News Association, Reporters Without Borders, The Seattle Times Company, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., Society of Professional Journalists, Texas Association of Broadcasters, Texas Press Association, Tully Center for Free Speech, and The Washington Post.

Music Artists: Does Sound Exchange Have Money for You?

Music Artists: Does Sound Exchange Have Money for You?
by Susan Basko, esq.

Sound Exchange collects and divvies out the royalties for non-interactive streaming play, such as satellite radio providers, webcasters, and digital cable music providers.  Sound Exchange pays money to featured artists and SRCO - sound recording copyright owners.   This is different from the PROs - performing rights organizations, such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, which deal with performing rights royalties for broadcast radio and pay songwriters through their publishers.  Sound Exchange does not deal in any royalties from Youtube or other video sites or services.

A lot of featured artists and sound recording copyright owners fail to register themselves and their works with Sound Exchange, possibly because they don't know what Sound Exchange does.  Every year, there is a big glut of money that goes unclaimed.  You have to register to get the money!

Does Sound Exchange have money waiting for you?  

If you are a featured artist, you can search and find out here:

If you are a sound recording copyright owner, such as a record label, you can search here to find out if there is money waiting for you:

Among the 37,614 music artists or rights owners that currently have unclaimed money waiting for them are some fairly big names, including Dan Gibson, Josh Vietti, James Cordon, Molly Ringwald, The Bornagen Beatles, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, Portland Cello Project, Blue Chicago, Chicago Sessions, Marky Mark, Kevin Costner, New York Philharmonic, Flosstradamus, 4 Alarm, and thousands more.

There are 2,657 sound recording copyright owners with "Records" in their names who have not claimed their money, including Los Feliz Records, Lost Cat Records, Capstone Records, Datapunk Recordings, and so many others.

If you search and see that you are owed money, you have to register, which you can do using one of the many forms at this link:

The layout for music royalties is quite complex, with different types of royalties coming from lots of different sources and going to different types of people or entities.  Sound Exchange is the only (or one of the few?) organizations that is authorized to make payments to featured performers and sound recording copyright owners.

If you have learned something new from this post, feel free to drop me a note at   Have a great day!

Volunteer: Give and Get

Volunteers rappel down to pick up trash dropped by hikers and tourists.

Volunteer: Give and Get
by Susan Basko, esq.

Volunteering can bring more meaning into your life.  If you are feeling bored or stuck, consider volunteering some time to a good activity.  My family was always strong with the spirit of volunteering to make for a better world, and I want to share that with you.  In doing so, I hope to spark you with some ideas of the many ways you can volunteer.

Volunteering can take a small amount of time, such as a few hours per month, or can take a lot of time, all the way up to a big time commitment.  The time span commitment level in volunteering can be a one-time project that takes a half a day, all the way up to being a years-long commitment.  The skill level needed for volunteering depends on the job to be done.  All volunteer jobs require a person to be reliable and on time and to do the task that is needed, but this can vary from picking up trash to searching for evidence to performing legal work or medical work.  There is almost always a cost involved in volunteering, such as paying for transportation, meals, babysitter, etc.  Some volunteer spots require the purchase or ownership of special equipment.  There is as much variety in volunteer work as there is in paid work.

There are so many reasons to volunteer your time.  The main reason is that you can make society a better place while becoming a better person.  Volunteering is character building.  Volunteering gives you a chance to do good things for others, which, in itself, is very satisfying.  You can learn new skills and build confidence in old skills by volunteering.  

I want to give some examples of volunteering that my family members, friends, and I have done through the years.  These examples are meant to give you ideas and inspire you to volunteer.

When I was growing up, my uncles helped run a group that provided an after-school club for kids in a rough inner city neighborhood of Chicago.  Every summer, the same group ran a one week sleep-away camp for the same kids.  I remember going to the fundraiser picnics that paid for the clubhouse and camp.  My uncles were just regular men, but joined together with others, they were able to make a week in the country happen each summer for children from some of the bleakest concrete spaces in the city.  I'd like to think those kids grew up better because of it.

My mother and aunt volunteered at a famous old theater that a group was saving from demolition.  To make it work financially, a group of volunteers ran and worked the front end of the theater - collecting tickets, passing out playbills, ushering people to their seats.  When the lights went down, the ushers took seats and watched the shows, which were often musical stage plays.  

My mother also volunteered to teach recent Hispanic immigrants how to speak English.  The program taught her how to teach one-on-one lessons in English as a second language.  My mother had a series of students, who attended their tutoring sessions free of charge.  My mother got a kick out of it.  She enjoyed welcoming new people to our nation.  She felt good knowing she was making them more employable and better able to support their families.

When we were in high school, my sisters volunteered at a tutoring program in "the projects."  They went to a housing project and tutored students in their schoolwork.  Both of those sisters went on to get teaching degrees and certificates.  One went on to run a mentoring program where the accomplished adults and community leaders in her city come in and mentor students in reading by sitting one-on-one with a student who reads to them.  It is said that mentoring a student in this way helps them to read and also builds their self-esteem, so they set higher goals for themselves.

Some of my friends run a volunteer activity that provides free hot soup to over 100 people three times a week.  This is their way of addressing the food insecurity of people in their city.  They gather donations of food and disposable bowls and utensils, prepare big pots of nutritious soup and bread and muffins.   They take the hot soup out to the same location three evenings a week and feed whoever shows up wanting a free meal.  My own family has helped with this wonderful activity and have found it good in every way.  

One of my family members volunteers with a mountain search and rescue group.  This is a volunteer activity that is hard to get into.  There is a complex system of application and being selected, and an ongoing rigorous program of training sessions in things such as communications, emergency medical treatment, rope climbing, rappelling, biking, running, orienteering, carrying a person, and much more.  There is also a significant expense involved, since each volunteer must supply their own clothing and equipment and supplies, as well as providing their own transportation.  As part of this group, my family member has helped rescue many lost or injured people, as well as helping to recover and carry out a few people who did not survive.  

I personally have done a huge amount of volunteering, often such things as saving historic buildings or working to make an area more livable for pedestrians by getting walk lights and pedestrian crossings installed.  My volunteer efforts have used my specialized skills of advocacy and organization.  I have also participated in several zoning boards where we would be presented with proposals by developers and then give our feedback or recommendations. 

One of my other main areas of volunteer work has been to help people and groups that want to run a legal, peaceful protest.  I have helped people all over the U.S. and all over the world to understand where and how they can protest, how they can determine if a permit is needed, how to obtain a permit if one is needed, how to schedule a protest and plan the agenda to keep the protests safe and meaningful.  I have helped people from all over the political spectrum with running protests, as long as they want to run a legal, peaceful protest.  I also run a blog that tells people how to do these very same things.  It is very fulfilling to know that I have helped people all over to engage in their basic rights of freedom of association and freedom of speech.

I have also done one-day volunteering sessions.  One I recall was with a group that plants trees in the city.  We spent an afternoon taking care of trees the group had planted the year before.  First, we were trained, and then we broke into pairs.  Each pair handled a row of trees.  We cleaned, dug, mulched, watered, and added new protective mulching materials at the base of the trees.  By the end of the afternoon, I was tired, hot, and streaked with dirt.  It was a wonderful experience and I learned basic maintenance of a tree.  Before that, I had never realized how hard it is for a tree to survive in the city, amid air pollution and misuse.

One of my young relatives has been volunteering at his local library for about 6 years now.  He helps with the reading club for younger children.  He runs the reading club desk when children come in to say which books they have read and to collect their points and prizes.  He also sits on the library teen board, reading and reviewing books and making recommendations.  This activity combines his love of reading with his natural kindness toward younger children.  He started volunteering at this when he was about 11 years old.  He was old enough to show up on time and take his duties seriously.

I know a man who runs an organization that builds gardens for schools.  They work with the school principals to design a space with growing areas and planters, benches and work tables, an outdoor sink.  Then, the group gathers volunteers who come in for a whirlwind of hard, highly organized work and build an amazing outdoor space in a day or weekend.  The volunteers carry wood, shovel and haul dirt, drill holes and screw screws.  At the end of the day, they have turned a dilapidated empty space into a wonderful outdoor nature learning area.  They are always looking for hard workers with lots of stamina and the ability to closely follow instructions.

I have friends who have volunteered on a suicide hotline.  They had to apply and be selected, and then were trained.  Apparently, weekend nights are big times for people to contemplate suicide, so the volunteers were needed during those time slots.  My friends would volunteer one or two weekend nights per month.  They said it was very difficult work, but very worthwhile knowing they were saving lives. 

I know a plumber who volunteers one day a year to go to schools and homes of people who need a specific plumbing job done.  He has gone in and put in a toilet or sink or cleaned a sewer line, or whatever needed doing.  This volunteer day is organized by his plumbers' union.

Whatever your specific skill set is, there are volunteer opportunities to match it.  You can even create your own volunteer activity.  I often see a man who walks around picking up litter on the street.  He's out there making the world a little bit nicer.

If you are looking for your first volunteer activity, you can usually find notices in your local paper, on bulletin boards, or on Facebook groups.  If you have a special skill set, look for opportunities that will make good use of it.  If you have an interest you would like to explore, look for a volunteer activity that will bring you in contact with others who have the skill set you desire.  

Be realistic about how much time and money you are able to spend on volunteering and how much is required for the activity you are considering.  Maybe you want to do a one-time activity that lasts 3 hours and costs only your transportation.  Maybe you are enticed, like my relative on the mountain search and rescue team, to join an activity that is all-encompassing.  Find what is right for you.

There is a famous old quote from the late President John F. Kennedy: "Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country."  To that I would add, "Ask what you can do for  your city or your neighborhood or your school or your park or your library or your street."  Go for it!

Brett Kavanaugh's New Job

Brett Kavanaugh's New Job
by Susan Basko, esq.

Brett Kavanaugh is now Justice Kavanaugh of the U.S. Supreme Court.  The photo above shows Justice Kavanaugh being sworn in by Chief Justice Roberts in the Justices' conference room.  This is the actual room where the Justices meet and sit around a table and take a vote on the cases they have heard.  There are several conference rooms at the Supreme Court building, and they have lovely old chandeliers, as shown below.  In the Justice's conference room, the chandeliers were replaced with bright lights because one of the Chief Justices thought it would help them to see better.  Look how bright that room is! 

As the Junior Justice, it will be Kavanaugh's duty to answer the door to the conference room, should anyone come knocking while the justices are meeting.  The doors to the conference rooms are very tall and heavy and ornate.  There will be security and staff and workers, but not directly inside the room, which is private, since the deliberations are considered secret.  The junior justice is also in charge of taking notes during the meetings.

Another duty of the Junior Justice is to supervise the cafeteria that is on the ground floor of the Supreme Court building.  That cafeteria is open to the public and is frequented by staff from the U.S. Capitol building across the street.  When Elena Kagan was the junior justice, she earned a reputation of having healthy foods in the cafeteria.  The cafeteria had a well-stocked, fresh salad bar.  She also introduced some local foods from her region.  Since Justice Kavanaugh is from Maryland, perhaps he will introduce crab cakes and hush puppies to the cafeteria line-up.  Maryland is also known for its official dessert, Smith Island cake, a yellow cake that has many thin layers, each cemented to the next with a layer of rich chocolate filling.  We'll have to wait and see what goodies this new justice brings to the cafeteria.

The Supreme Court hears cases in an ornate old courtroom that has much of the original furniture from 1935, when the building was completed.  The Justices sit on a raised stage, behind a long desk.  Each Justice gets a special chair made to his or her measurements and specifications.   Considering they have to sit for long hours listening to case arguments, they need comfy chairs.  Sometimes a justice might appear to doze off, but you will never see this in pictures or video, because cameras are strictly forbidden in the Supreme Court courtroom.  The hearings are audio recorded and the archives of those recordings are on the Supreme Court website.

When Justice Kavanaugh comes to work each day, he does not have to walk up the tall staircase out front.  There is a side door on the ground level, and elevators that go to the courtroom level.

Above the courtroom is a gymnasium and basketball court.  It is open when the court ends for the day.  If someone were shooting hoops during court, it would sound like boom boom boom on the courtroom ceiling. Can you picture Justice Kavanaugh going up to the gym to shoot hoops with Justices Gorsuch and Kagan?  Maybe, right?  Or maybe he will join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in doing callisthenics and thai chi?

Note: Susan Basko, the author of this blog, is an attorney and counselor of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dear Sir, Google Canned Responses

Dear Sir, Google Canned Responses
by Susan Basko, esq.

Gmail has this new feature where when you send an email, it automatically creates a selection of 3 Canned Responses for your receiver to use in replying to you.  As the sender, you do not get to pick the responses being sent, and you do not even see them.  There is a way to turn them off, and this will be shown further below.

What kind of Canned Responses does Gmail generate?  I started sending emails to find out.  I started with a religious query to a pastor.  This is my email and in the blue are the Canned Responses.

Next, I tried a business letter regarding contracts ready to be signed, with a possible side of fries.

Perhaps Sunday dinner with Marta Stewart and Snoop Dogg.

Then I thought I'd ask Elon Musk to put me in his space program and send me to Mars.  Let's see what his reply options are.

Next it seemed like Southwest Airlines needed a talking-to.

Harvard University was up next.

Then I got to thinking how poorly Serena Williams was treated on the tennis court recently.

Maybe Donald Trump needed a few encouraging words?

Maybe Kanye West could run for president next time?

And what's up with Jack at Twitter?

Finally, it seemed like Sergey at Google needed a few words of advice from me.

"It works"?  What sort of reply is that when I write to say gmail is broken?

This is how to turn off the Canned Responses on Gmail: Go up on the top right hand side to the little GEAR thing.  Click it and choose SETTINGS.  From the top bar menu, choose ADVANCED.  Next choose: CANNED RESPONSES -- and choose DISABLE.  Then you need to scroll to the bottom and click on SAVE CHANGES.

Illinois No Guns Allowed Signs

Illinois No Guns Allowed Signs 
by Susan Basko, esq.

The U.S. State of Illinois has an interesting law that allows the owner of any private real property to prohibit anyone from bringing a firearm onto or into the property simply by posting a copy of the sign above at the entrance to the property.  No sign is needed if the property is a private residence.  The sign must be 4 inches by 6 inches in size and must be clearly and conspicuously posted at the entrance to the property or building.

The law is found in 430 ILCS 66/ Firearm Concealed Carry Act , a much longer law that allows people to apply for a concealed carry permit, and gives a long list of places where any firearm is prohibited, including schools, daycare centers, government buildings, courts, jails, prisons, hospitals, buses or trains, bars or any place that serves alcohol, special events held in public, playgrounds, parks, athletic fields and facilities, trails and bikeways, forest preserves, any college or university building or facility, any horse racing or gambling facility, any sporting arena or stadium, libraries, airports, amusement parks, zoos, museums, nuclear facilities, and anywhere else prohibited by federal law.

That long list leaves a few private locations, and the owners of those properties can opt to make their properties Gun-Free Zones simply by posting the sign shown above.  The sections of the law that detail this are:

(a-10) The owner of private real property of any type may prohibit the carrying of concealed firearms on the property under his or her control. The owner must post a sign in accordance with subsection (d) of this Section indicating that firearms are prohibited on the property, unless the property is a private residence.


(d) Signs stating that the carrying of firearms is prohibited shall be clearly and conspicuously posted at the entrance of a building, premises, or real property specified in this Section as a prohibited area, unless the building or premises is a private residence. Signs shall be of a uniform design as established by the Department and shall be 4 inches by 6 inches in size. The Department shall adopt rules for standardized signs to be used under this subsection. 

In Chicago, the little signs are posted on the entry doors to many buildings, usually just above the door handle.   Just by posting these signs at the entrance to the property, the owner creates a law for their own property.

The signs are sold online by sign companies.  The signs have to be exactly as stated in the law, with no additional wording or graphics.  If you look, you will see these signs all over Illinois on the doors to restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, stores, laundries, and other places open to the public.

Let's look at an example.  Stephen Paddock brought many guns into his hotel suite on a high floor in a  Las Vegas, Nevada, casino hotel. Paddock loaded up his cache of automated weapons and ammunition onto luggage carts and wheeled it into the freight elevator and brought it up to his room.  He returned to his home several times to bring more guns and ammo back to the hotel.  He used those guns to shoot and kill many people who were at a concert down below outside in view of his hotel windows.  

It has been reported that in the year before that massacre, Paddock had booked a hotel room in Chicago, Illinois, overlooking the site of Lollapalooza, a big music festival.  Paddock never showed up at his reserved rooms in Chicago.  This Illinois law that allows hotel owners to prohibit guns may be the reason Paddock never showed up.

What is the difference between Las Vegas and Chicago?  Most Chicago hotels do not allow firearms.   The hotels post the little signs, thus making it illegal to bring a gun to the hotel.  The hotels also post the firearms policy on their websites.  Below is the policy as stated by the hotel that Paddock had booked overlooking Lollapalooza.  It is from the Chicago Hilton on Michigan Avenue.  The policy states: "FIREARMS POLICY Carrying a weapon on these premises is prohibited and violators may be subject to arrest for trespass under applicable law."  

At most hotels in Illinois where it is illegal to bring in a firearm, if the person has a concealed carry permit, it is usually legal for them to leave the firearm locked in a case in their locked car in the parking lot.  You can ask any hotel what their policy is regarding the parking lot.  Most downtown Chicago hotels charge a high daily parking lot fee, usually around $50 per day.

If you want to buy some of the No Gun signs, you can find them for sale online at several places, including this site: Compliance Signs   You will notice the signs are not inexpensive, but they do appear to meet the legal requirements.  By googling, you can find other sites selling the signs.  if you are a property owner in Illinois and want to make it illegal for anyone to bring in a gun, get some of the signs and put them on your entry doors.  The signs are sold as decals, so all you need is a clean door and you can have the sign up in a few minutes.