As soon as I started composing, my relatives recommended me to protect my work: I was advised regularly at the time to sign up with the SACEM (Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music). In reality, registering with a collecting society does not necessarily mean protecting a work. Indeed, even people registered in these societies may have an interest in protecting their work before it is made public.

I will try to give my point of view on protecting the work we do.
First, I will give reasons explaining the need for this protection. Then I will look at the different protections available as well as the pros and cons of each solution. 

Why protect your work?

You might or might not know that thanks to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, your original work is protected from the moment it’s created, even when it’s unpublished or unfinished.

Therefore, you keep the all your rights on this work: 

  • Your moral rights: you cannot renounce them while you are alive. When you die, they will be passed on from generation to generation. This guarantees, for example, that the authorship of the work and its integrity are maintained.
  • Your economic rights: the rights of reproduction, distribution, resale right, as well as representation. You can choose to assign these rights to another person or to a company. What if you are dead? Whoever still holds these rights can use them for 70 years after your death.

Wikipedia summarizes copyright quite well, and for more information, you can always go to the source by consulting the WIPO website.

In short, the reason why I explain all this is that joining a collective management society is not mandatory to protect a work. Fortunately, moreover, because the conditions of accessibility are not the simplest! On the other hand, you have to prove that you are indeed the author of the creation on a specific DATE.

As far as I am concerned, I play and show my compositions (completed or almost) in front of my friends, colleagues, teachers. I am sometimes asked for a copy of my scores. I even play my works in auditions in conservatories… In short, I bring my music to life.

So either I trust all the people who have had knowledge of my works, or I take the lead. That’s why I try to do what it takes to get dated evidence: to protect myself.

Indeed, if ever a plagiarist (or a person who had the same idea by pure chance) takes you to court, you need material to defend yourself!

Protecting a work means guaranteeing at least that you retain your freedom over it, regardless of the licence you use.

Let’s take the example of the least restrictive licence for the consumer (the CC0): this licence also allows the exploitation of your work without your authorization by the user. If you want him to be able to retain these rights (against a demonic plagiarist who will prohibit these rights, or authorize it in exchange for remuneration), your work must be protected and this thanks to the date of anteriority.

How to protect your work?

Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of the different protection options.

The sealed envelope:

This is surely the most common way in France to protect your finished or unfinished work on French soil: the envelope closed on a key date.

Although many companies offer this solution (such as the INPI, the SNAC or the SACD for example), it is quite possible to send your work to your home in a sealed envelope by La Poste by registered mail with acknowledgment of receipt. Of course, it is not up to you to open the letter, but to a bailiff in the event of a dispute. With this you have a dated work.

However, I will still present the disadvantages to you, because there are unfortunately some:

The difficulty of keeping the La Poste standard letter:

Of course, the envelope must be protected from anything that could damage it, such as humidity, for example.

Indeed, for some of my envelopes, I realize that the date is gradually fading… A little problematic since it is my main proof. This is where companies specializing in the conservation of envelopes (such as the INPI sealed envelope) come in.

On the other hand um… where La Poste costs from 5 euros depending on the weight of the letter, companies can charge you 15€, and it can go up to 50€ per envelope! Afterwards, of course, you delegate the conservation, which will no longer be a problem for you… temporarily. These companies will not keep ad vitam aeternam your letter, and beyond a period (5 or 10 years), it will be returned to you under conditions.

Difficulties regarding the content of the letter:

If, for example, you wish to protect music or a video that you have burned onto a CD, what is your guarantee that your CD will be readable on the day of the dispute? The lifespan of CDs is quite short. Personally, I favour paper over digital as much as possible.

Difficulties concerning the territorial limits of this protection:

Remember, I said it’s a way to protect a work on French soil. And the reason why I insist on French soil is that there is unfortunately no guarantee that a sealed envelope will be valid protection abroad.

There are many examples of case law in France, in particular on sealed envelopes (see this judgment in this sense).

But abroad, the testimonies I have received tend to the contrary. This is why I make it clear that this method is only valid in the event of a dispute before the French Justice.

Publication not visible online

This concerns sites like SafeCreative which specialize in the deposit of works.

These sites do not require you to disclose your work to the public. Some also allow you to choose the licence you want to use (the classic all rights reserved or one of the many Creative Commons up to CC0 approaching the public domain). If for various reasons you do not want to share your work immediately, whether it is completed or not, these sites can be a good alternative to the letter in the case of protection outside France.

If I’m a little more confident about protection abroad via this method, it’s because these sites are recognized in a WIPO article (yes, the very organization that took care of the famous Bern convention). For example, you choose one of these sites to protect your work, it will make sure to provide the judge with the maximum amount of metadata stored with the work.

I would have liked to stop there, but here too I will list some disadvantages (because we are in an imperfect world!):

The problem of anonymity.

If some offer the author to be visible only by pseudonym, this is not the case for all. SafeCreative, for example, asks you for a paid account for this. Of course, if you generally sign with your real name on all of your works, this is not a problem for you.

The problem of originality.

If you have a 100% original work, no problem. On the other hand, if it is only partially original (and it does not benefit from any exception), you must have the authorization of the other rights holders. Otherwise, the latter could ask the site to delete your work. Damage.

The problem of private sites.

If you trust these sites, your work will be preserved as long as you need it. However, this protection is not as guaranteed. It should be remembered that these are mostly private companies, although they are recommended by WIPO. So, I wanted to know more about the MyFreeCopyright site. Unfortunately, this no longer exists. Therefore, all the works stored on it have certainly disappeared with it. To conclude, I would say that it would be better to entrust your work to a stable, well-established company with good feedback? (and even…)

The publication visible online

My work is finished, and I want to distribute it on the internet, which is therefore available in many countries! Fortunately, the Bern Convention is recognized by France and more than 150 other countries. These work pretty much with the same rules, the most important of which: the date of publication will prevail.

On the other hand, it is advisable to be vigilant with regard to the sites which will serve as a platform for your magnificent work. Check their terms of use carefully before entrusting them with your creation!

Take the example of the Soundcloud platform: if you use it for free, it only allows you to upload 3 hours of soundtrack. Not ideal for podcasting… If you want to post new stuff regularly, you will have to delete previous works: and you risk losing your proof of the date! Unless… you weren’t satisfied with this platform! Also, whatever the type of work, I strongly advise you to multiply the number of places where you will deposit it.

But yes, online publication also has drawbacks, or at least, I see a drawback (which sometimes can make me paranoid):

The deletion of the work

I’ll take YouTube as an example. As soon as you upload a video, the host will date it at the time you made it public.

This site is still very used, very watched. Many personalities have become famous through this site, many traditional media recognize it. In short, its notoriety is such that it is not common to doubt the dates under the videos of the authors themselves. In this, I consider that the dates of YouTube videos are very good evidence when dealing with a plagiarist. Unfortunately… this evidence disappears as soon as the video is deleted.

On YouTube, this deletion is not necessarily due to your will. It may be due to YouTube’s ContentID software, or to rights holders (or so-called rights holders) who will prohibit the distribution of your work. However, it can be 100% original, or partially original but which respects French law (example: the right of parody).

MisterJDay’s video shows in some detail that anyone can be a victim of your video being deleted, even if you are completely within your rights. Here, I took YouTube as an example, but many sites have this type of software (each with its own algorithm). This is why I consider that distributing on a single site seems risky to me and why I insist on multiplying the number of sites to be distributed.

At first, I rarely published my works online, and I mainly used the letter to protect them. Although now I publish my works, I frequently ask the opinion of relatives before publication. That’s why I keep sending myself letters. I have not yet felt the need to protect myself via works deposit sites. Maybe one day I will compile both methods, especially if I show unpublished works outside French soil.

To conclude, I cannot say which is the best method of protection, each has its advantages and disadvantages. Nothing prevents using the 3 at the same time or others. There are indeed other methods, such as depositing your work with a notary or a bailiff, but… it is not the same price! Likewise, you can publish your work online through your own server for more control. It will also not be the same price, especially if it is mainly videos! Everything will depend on what you want as a quality of bunker on a work.

It’s up to you to find a balance, and don’t hesitate to let me know of other means of protection that I wouldn’t have thought of!

Sources :

Illustration en-tête : CC-By Garry Knight
Remerciements : Yori YoSen

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