5 Rules of Copyright Every Artist Needs to Know

Also check out: 6 Do’s and Don’ts of Using and Artist’s Work and 20 Ways to Source Images Online for Free

Breathe a sigh of relief because today is all about copyright. It’s not as terrible or complicated as you may think, and here I’m breaking it down into 5 simple rules.

Note: I am not a lawyer or any sort of legal professional. I’m writing this post based solely on my understanding of copyright as an artist myself.

Download the US Copyright Office’s Copyright Basics Guide here: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf

And their guide for Copyright Registration for Pictorial, Graphic,and Sculptural Works here: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ40.pdf

Check out the American Society of Media Photographer’s Copyright FAQ here: https://asmp.org/tutorials/frequently-asked-questions-about-registration.html

  1. The moment you create “an original form of expression”, you own the rights. You don’t have to officially file for a copyright in order to have your work protected. Only you have the right to make reproductions and derivatives, distribute copies and publicly display the work (this includes online as well as galleries). For anyone else to do these things with your work, you have had to have granted them the right to do so. If they do any of these things without your permission, they have violated your copyright and you can take action against that violation.
  2. In order for a copyright claim, where you’re saying that someone is claiming your work as their own, to be upheld, you have to be able to prove that the person knowingly copied or stole your work. Ideas in pieces can be very similar, without someone knowingly copying someone else’s work. If we both took photographs of the same object, we would both own the respective rights to our own photos. I couldn’t claim you stole my work.
  3. If someone is using or distributing your work without your permission, you can send them a cease and desist letter. I recommend via email, as it’s a quicker process, but obviously you’ll be limited to whatever contact information you have for the person. If the person chooses to ignore or fight your cease and desist letter, you will need to get a lawyer to seek legal action for damages etc.  [Read more about cease and desist letters for artists here: http://retouchingebooks.com/stolenimages/]
  4. Even though you own all rights to your work the moment you create it, registering your copyright can still be beneficial. Having a registration is proof of infringement if you ever have to take someone to court. It also allows for damages and attorney fees to be paid out in this instance. The filing fee varies between $35 and $45 and that’s not just per image, although it can be if you only register one piece at a time. As an artist you can register up to 750 published images as a series of works, or an unlimited number of unpublished images in a series, say all your 2015 creations for that one registration fee.
  5. If you’ve created something, that’s all you need. But with the information age, many people assume that if something is online its fine for them to use it for their own purposes. Watermarks on images and copyright notices on websites can help deter this, but these don’t work in all cases. Be vigilant, reverse image search your most popular pieces, and help educate others on why it hurts an artist if you misuse their work. [Learn about the magic of reverse image searching here: http://makingamark.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/how-to-do-reverse-image-search.html]

If you’d like more information on any of the above, comment below or shoot me an email at [email protected].

Do you have anything to add? Have you registered a copyright? Have you dealt with a copyright infringement? What side of the watermark debate do you stand on? Let me know in a comment below.

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