RIAA Renews Action Against Music Copying

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) was much vilified for its suits a while back against random file-sharers who were distributing copyrighted music. Now it appears that the RIAA is proceeding against people who have copied legally-purchased CDs onto their own computers.

The question is, how did the RIAA find these people?  Were they, in fact, engaging in file-sharing–or is there a code on the CDs in question which tipped the RIAA off?  Something is not being fully reported here. 

1. What is a copyright?

Copyright is a federally granted property right which gives the author (creator) of a work the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, or display the work, or create derivatives (other works based on the work), or to permit others to do so.

2. What does copyright protect?

Copyright protects such forms of intellectual property as artwork, writing, music, film and other audiovisual works, choreography, and computer code. A copyright protects the expression of an idea. It does not protect the idea itself.

3. How is a copyright different from a trademark?

Copyright protects a work from being copied without permission, while a trademark protects against a competitor using the work in commerce to indicate the source of goods or services.

4. Can something be both copyrighted and trademarked?

Sometimes. For example, an image may be protected under copyright, and its use in commerce as a logo may also be protected as a trademark.


Daniel Abraham has practiced in copyright, trademark, licensing and entertainment law for more than 15 years, primarily serving the creative community.

Prior to entering full-time legal practice, Abraham worked as a professional illustrator. His work has been featured in newspapers, magazines, and corporate publications nationwide.

Abraham currently teaches copyrights and contracts to illustration students at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), and has also instructed students at the Parsons School of Design, both in New York City. He lectures frequently on copyright issues.  Past venues include the Society of Illustrators, the Graphic Artists Guild, the Society of Scribes and the School of Visual Arts.

As the Graphic Artists Guild’s Vice-President for Advocacy from 1987 to 1998, Abraham co-directed the national Artists for Tax Equity lobbying effort, which in 1988 won artists exemption from the tax capitalization requirements of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. He also led the Guild’s successful campaign to exempt California artists’ rights transfers from state sales tax.

Abraham created the Legal Easel® forum on The Ispot illustration website, providing free legal guidance for illustrators.

A.B., University of Chicago, 1974
J.D., University of Miami, 1977

Federal: U.S. Supreme Court, First Circuit, Second Circuit
State: New York, Illinois

5. How do I obtain a copyright?

Copyright comes into existence the moment a work is fixed in tangible form—that is, as soon as it is drawn, written, recorded or filmed. Copyright is initially held by the creator of the work, unless it has been signed away by contract or operation of law.

6. How can I protect my copyright?

Protect your copyright by registering it promptly with the U.S. Copyright Office.

7. How do I copyright a character I have created?

There is no direct copyright protection for a “character” as such. Representations of characters—the images themselves or the written work in which they are portrayed—can be protected.

8. Does mailing my work to myself protect my copyright?

No. Although this myth has persisted for years, mailing your work to yourself, whether by registered mail or any other “authorized” or “certified” method, does not protect your copyright in any way. Registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office protects your work.