Jessica Sobhraj’s “aha” idea struck several years ago when she was working on licensing music for films, TV shows, commercials and games. Almost daily, she would find herself trying to figure out who owned the copyrights to the work, only to discover that the legal documents necessary to establish ownership just didn’t exist.
“This was a huge problem,” she told us. “When creators do not take the time to put ownership agreements in place and to register their copyrights, they can face lawsuits, liability and lost income – as well as the serious cost of undoing those mistakes. After encountering this so often, I naturally said the cheesiest words any entrepreneur eventually says: ‘There has to be a better way!’ ”
At the time, there wasn’t. So Sobhraj and a small team built a basic app that evolved into Cosynd, their fast-growing platform that helps creators of music, videos, visual art, literature and other forms of media protect their work. Cosynd is now used to create, negotiate and sign copyright contracts that can be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Many creators are discovering Cosynd through partners including CD Baby, Women in Music, BookBaby, Disc Makers, AdRev and others.
Cosynd is the first investment from women.nyc’s WE Venture Fund, New York City Economic Development Corporation’s $30 million venture partnership to invest in women and minority led businesses. “We are thrilled to be an investor in Cosynd, a company on a mission to support creators in protecting their work,” said Julia Schneider, VP of NYCEDC’s Strategic Investments Group. “As the first investment of our WE Venture portfolio, we were determined to select a partner with the passion, creativity and grit that embodies the spirit of the program. Cosynd, under Sobhraj’s leadership, was a no-brainer.”
We sat down with Cosynd’s CEO, Jessica Sobhraj to find out more.
How can independent artists use Cosynd?
It’s a very simple, straightforward platform. For us, it was really important to build something that would allow people to protect themselves in a simple and affordable way that was completely approachable. We walk our creators go through a guided series of questions to generate a customized copyright ownership agreement (a split sheet, a work for hire agreement, a producer agreement or a collaboration agreement). That agreement is sent off to their collaborators, who can review it, propose change and ultimately sign off. Creators can also invite their attorneys to review/edit the documents they have created, if they wish to. You can also take the ownership data from your agreements and use it to create U.S. Copyright Office registrations, which Coysnd files on your behalf quickly and easily. Our team has experienced all of the negative issues that occur when copyright ownership isn’t documented, including the high costs.
For us, it was really important to build something that would allow people to protect themselves in a simple and affordable way that was completely approachable.
Why is it necessary to copyright artistic material?
We always say that registering your copyrights is like insuring your music. The minute you have created something you have certain rights as a copyright holder, but you can’t protect or enforce those rights unless you’ve registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. That process can often take months, but once it has been completed, you’re entitled to a host of benefits. The most important is the ability to file lawsuits (and receive $150,000 per willful infringement). If you’re a songwriter, registering will also be a requirement for receiving specific royalties from the Mechanical Licensing Collective – a body designated to collect royalties from services that stream or play music.
If you’ve created something with other collaborators, by default everyone has an equal claim to the same rights, royalties, and responsibilities regardless of what their contribution was. Having these copyright ownership agreements in place ensures that these critical things – rights, revenue, responsibilities – are allocated to each collaborator appropriately.
Artists are always on the go—from gig to gig and, often, one or more part-time jobs. How have you incorporated the “artist’s lifestyle” into your pursuit of process efficiency?
It all comes down to speed and efficiency. So, knowing the ins and outs of how to copyright your music or keeping up with all of the changes at the Copyright Office isn’t really the main focus of the average creator. People rarely have time to keep up with those nuances.
Cosynd’s process automatically eliminates the most common mistakes that people make when registering their copyrights. We break down every step of the process because we want to make sure we’re gathering the critical information we need to get that registration done quickly. It’s important to understand why you’re registering, how that benefits you, and what some of these key terms and concepts mean. That’s why there are so many help tools and tips on the platform as well as a knowledge base of over one hundred of articles and how-to guides.
It also comes down to having a streamlined process and designs that are intuitive. I credit that entirely to Cassidy Williams, our Chief Product Officer, and Leo Larkpor, our Chief Technical Officer. All of us know the limited time an artist has to get through everything they need to get through, so if we can make it easy, affordable, and secure protection in just a few minutes, that is what we want to do.
We constantly get emails from artists saying, ‘Thank you for doing this. This was so, so easy.’
Any success stories you can share from artists who’ve used Cosynd?
One of our creators had their song sampled by a really well-known, major label artist, without his permission. Actually, the major artist directly asked our creator for permission and was denied. This major label artist did it anyway and sold 100,000 copies of that song that contained the sample. Our creator had a hard time finding anyone who would take on the case, because he did not register his song with the U.S. Copyright Office beforehand. As you can imagine, waiting several months for his registration to be approved and the thought of having it denied because of errors was unnerving. So, he came to us. With expedition, he was able to get registered in a matter of five days. He could then file an infringement lawsuit and have a better chance at settling the matter.
One of our other creators was able to do seven copyright registrations back-to-back, two minutes apart. You would be hard-pressed to accomplish that anywhere else. We constantly get emails from artists saying, “Thank you for doing this. This was so, so easy.” Most return to us to create more agreements and to do all of their registrations with us.
Tell us about your own journey. How did you figure out how to build a company, and what’s your advice for other women who want to try it?
The most important thing for us was to surround ourselves with an incredible board of advisers from the onset. We didn’t write a single line of code until the advisory board was in place and it took about a year and a half to get the right team assembled. We’ve been so fortunate to surround ourselves with incredible investors, like WE Venture, NYCEDC and Morgan Stanley too. We’re so grateful to all of them for their support – it makes all the difference in the world.
**The U.S. Copyright Office recently announced a change in its fees. In particular, some common fees are increasing on March 20, 2020. Cosynd has outlined some of these increases here and to off-set them, Cosynd will be providing a discount through April 30th so that artists can register a video, a book, a song or an entire album with the U.S. Copyright Office in minutes for just $25 per application (plus federal filing fees). Click here for more info.