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article imageQ&A: Helping artists determine legal ownership of their content Special

By Tim Sandle     Nov 25, 2018 in Entertainment
Jessica Sobhraj, a veteran of Rumblefish/SESAC and now CEO & Founder of Cosynd, has created Cosynd to help artists and creatives legally determine ownership of content with their collaborators.
Sobhraj was inspired to create Cosynd after years of working in music licensing and as the President of Women in Music and seeing first-hand the pains artists would go through in their legal content management. To achieve this, Jessica assembled a diverse, predominantly female team that shares her passions for the technical and legal intricacies of licensing and the sheer joy of creation.
Cosynd provides an affordable, easy, and legal way for creators to protect their content. The platform allows creators of music, video, visual art and literature to collectively verify their ownership of their copyrights and establishes other critical legal details. Cosynd also provides a quick and easy way for these collaborators to register their content with the U.S. Copyright Office.
To discover more, Digital Journal caught up with Jessica.
Digital Journal: How effective are current copyright and content management laws?
Jessica Sobhraj: In the U.S., copyright is trillion dollar industry that involves millions of creators, publishers, services, licensees, consumers, policy makers, courts, and a web of legal nuances that dictate how all of these stakeholders are supposed to work together. Relaying these nuances to copyright creators is where there is significant room for improvement, particularly in this era of collaboration.
Collaborators often find themselves asking questions like who actually owns their shared content, what percentage does each person own, what rights does each person have and what can they do with the content? It’s not uncommon to see content creators be taken advantage of or exploited because they weren’t aware that these are key issues that needed to be discussed with their collaborators beforehand. We created Cosynd to help creators tackle all of these issues with simple, affordable legal agreements and copyright registrations.
DJ: Are artists being adversely affected?
Sobhraj: Artists constantly face exploitation, dwindling fees, attribution issues, and royalty underpayments from the digital services that reach billions in revenue and valuation caps by using their content. Although some creators may not realize the importance of documenting ownership of their content from the onset, they can’t afford not to.
Incorrect ownership data is the one of the main reasons why artists are not paid fairly or given credit for their work. Creators can document ownership of their content with a very simple copyright ownership called a “split sheet.” On Cosynd, you can create a split sheet with your collaborators and continuously add all of your content to it for free.
DJ: Has the situation altered in the digital age?
Sobhraj: The majority of content is consumed online – we listen to music, watch all of our favorite movies and television shows, and read books, magazines, and the news all through digital services. Content and information is far more accessible than ever. Unfortunately, this has also caused more piracy and illegal use of copyrights.
There are a few things that creators can do to proactively protect their content. These are:
Create copyright ownership agreements with your collaborators from the very moment of creation. Without an agreement in place, your collaborators have an equal share of ownership by default and an equal right to license your content non-exclusively without your permission.
Register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office, which creates a public record of your ownership and also gives you the right to file an infringement suit (you can’t do this unless you have registered with the Copyright Office).
Register with a content monitoring service that will track the use of your content and ensure that you are compensated.
DJ: Is new legislation needed?
Sobhraj: Currently, there are two major proposed bills that will bring significant changes for copyright holders.
First, the CASE Act of 2017. Copyright owners that have registered their content with the U.S. Copyright Office are given certain benefits over content owners that have not. One of the most important benefits is the ability to file an infringement suit if your content is being used illegally. Although these copyright owners have this right, it’s often too expensive for them to actually enforce it in court.
The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (“CASE”) Act of 2017 will allow small business owners, professional photographers, authors, songwriters, and other creators a simplified, affordable process for resolving smaller claims of infringement within a voluntary copyright small claims court called the Copyright Claims Board (CCB). The CCB will oversee a streamlined process within the U.S. Copyright Office that allows creators to conduct proceedings virtually, is far less expensive than traditional means, and is entirely voluntary. However, participating in the CCB will limit the amount of damages that a copyright owner can collect to a cap of $15,000 per work.
Second, the Orrin G. Hatch Music Modernization Act. Formerly known simply as the “Music Modernization Act,” this bill creates the most meaningful update to copyright law in decades for music copyright owners. Sponsored by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, this bill passed the Senate by a unanimous vote, a rare occurrence for any piece of legislation.
Once enacted, the bill will change how publishers, songwriters, engineers, and producers are paid royalties each time their music is licensed and played. The bill creates enhanced royalty payouts for mechanical licensing and creates a collective governed by songwriters and publishers that will administer those royalties. In addition to new royalties that will be granted to engineers and producers for their roles, labels, artists, and musicians that created sound recordings prior to February 15th, 1972 will now also be eligible to collect royalties from digital services. Collectively, these updates will generate more revenue for all music creators while streamlining the entire process.
DJ: Why did you set up Cosynd?
Sobhraj: Cosynd’s founding team and advisors have decades of experience in advocating for creators and fixing issues relating to copyright ownership such as when content is used/sold illegally, a collaborator claims ownership when they shouldn’t, content is withheld, content is removed from a streaming platform because of ownership disputes, etc.
All of these issues could be avoided with a copyright ownership agreement. What most creatives aren’t aware of is that under U.S. copyright law, their collaborators have an equal claim of ownership of their content by default, unless there is an agreement in place stating otherwise. In other words, if a collaborator played a small role in the creation of your content, they could have a claim of ownership and rights that equals yours!
Anything “legal” seems scary and expensive, which might prevent creators from taking the steps that are necessary to establish ownership of their content. However, not taking those steps is a mistake that ultimately costs creators time and money. We created Cosynd with one simple goal in mind – to make it easier and more affordable for creators to protect their ownership of their content with quality tools that aren’t overwhelming to use.
Cosynd is an essential toolkit that lets creators register copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office and easily form copyright split sheets, work for hire, and copyright ownership agreements with their collaborators. With Cosynd creators can get everyone on the same page about who owns their content, how it can be used, and what rights they all will have if things go wrong.
Creators can negotiate the terms of these agreements through a simple click-through process, invite attorneys to review (if they want to), and e-sign quickly and easily, so that they can get back to doing what they do best - creating!
DJ: What services does Cosynd provide?
Sobhraj: Most of the legal and payment issues that creators face stem from failing to document ownership of their content. You can use Cosynd to easily document ownership of music, videos, photography, illustrations, designs, screenplays, scripts, books, and other documents – taking care of this now will save you the time, money, and frustration of having to fight about it in the future when things are less friendly.
There are three types of copyright ownership agreements that you can create with your collaborators on Cosynd. First, split Sheets – a short document that lists the percentage each collaborator owns in your work. Creators and their collaborators can make a split sheet for free on Cosynd.
Second, Premium Ownership Agreements – a lengthier document that establishes copyright ownership and extremely important details about your content such as which collaborators are permitted to license your content on your behalf, who may use your name and likeness, how disputes are handled, indemnification, and more.
Third, work for Hire Agreements - outlines the scope and terms of work to be completed by someone you have paid to help create your content such as a contractor, freelancer, etc. This agreement is typically used when the person you have paid will not be a co-owner of your content.
You can also register your copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office easily and quickly on Cosynd. We import information about your content directly to your application, so that you don’t have to re-enter information repeatedly.
DJ: Do female artists require more support than male artists?
Sobhraj: In addition to Cosynd, I also am President of Women in Music – the largest and longest running non-profit for women in the music industry. WIM is operated by 100+ volunteers working daily to provide resources to thousands of women worldwide. Like other industries, women in the music industry face similar challenges and inequalities caused by gender biases.
We’ve learned that each region has a unique set of challenges and circumstances that are the most pressing for their community. These challenges and circumstances can be comprised of a combination of economic disadvantages, geographical disadvantages, the pay gap, discrimination, sexual harassment, as well as scarcity of opportunities, funding, resources, and mentors, all of which impact women in different ways.
At WIM, we aim to provide opportunities for women to overcome these hurdles.
DJ: How do you plan to grow your company?
Sobhraj: We’re constantly developing and anticipating what creatives will need next. Shortly, will be adding other copyright registration services to Cosynd and introducing other creative agreement types.
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