Thursday, January 20, 2011

Can we use nick names when claiming copyright

Dear Rich: If an artist performs and releases music under a nickname of her legal name, which, according to this Copyright Office link, does not qualify as a pseudonym or fictitious name, does that mean it's OK to claim copyright ownership under that nickname (first name being the nickname with her real last name, kind of like me using Jeff instead of Jeffrey)? The only issue I see is that someone could argue they didn't know who held the copyright.
We're not so sure that the truncation of Jeffrey (Jeff) qualifies as a nick name. (Some folks think that it is a "diminutive" nick name, while others are not as sure).  In any case, it doesn't matter what name the performer uses on the CD. What matters is whether she can prove she owns the copyright. For that reason most copyright owners prefer to use their legal name when filing copyright registrations or signing publishing deals because it's the easiest version to confirm in the event a dispute arises. For example, 'Muddy Waters' appeared on stage but it was McKinley Morganfield who appeared in court.  In your case, use of surname and nick name should suffice for copyright and other legal purposes because it should be fairly easy to prove that the claimant and the artist are one and the same.
Full Disclosure: The Dear Rich(ard) staff has a vested interest in promoting the legal rights associated with nick names (and truncations).