Kevin J. Greene

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Copyright registration is the currency of copyright transactions in music, film, and television and is essential for pursuing infringement claims and ownership disputes. Despite copyright registration’s outsized reach across the copyright spectrum and importance to the copyright industries, the U.S. Copyright Office does not verify claims of copyright authorship or ownership. No express mechanism exists to challenge false copyright registrations in the Copyright Office, and the penalties for falsely claiming copyright authorship are paltry in comparison to the potential gains. This Article contends that lax copyright registration standards call into question the legitimacy of the registration system and that the shortcomings of the current system are nowhere more salient than in the experience of African-American music artists, from Barrett Strong and Little Richard to Lil Wayne. The copyright disenfranchisement of Black artists wrought by copyright registration validates my contention that copyright formalities like registrations and copyright terminations will always tend to fall heaviest on Black creators. As it stands, there is little reason to believe that in connection with Black legacy artists and hip-hop artists the records of the Copyright Office are accurate or complete. These insights suggest that reform is needed to both police registrations on the front end and increase deterrence of false claims with enforcement mechanisms and penalties on the back end.