Navigating Copyright Law for Art

Let Everyone Know Its Yours

Have you created, painted, sculpted, written something recently? It is copyrighted the moment it is created. That means you own your art - the idea, the materials, the creation. So, mark the things you make, the hard copies AND the digital/online ones, and let the world know they're yours!

Registering a Copyright

So, anything you make, BOOM, its automatically copyrighted to you. No one can copy your creation. BUT what happens if someone does? If they do you can tell them, Hey, cut it out. If they don't, you'll have to prove you made the original and that you made it before they made theirs. If they have profited from using your creation, and you want any money from a settlement, you'll need a registered copyright. That would be why you would want to REGISTER a copyright on a creation, or a series of work. You do that with the US Government, online or with a paper form. More Information Here.

How to Share what you've made

If you sell a piece of work, you still own the copyright. The new owners can't copy it or display it for profit unless you give them permission!

If someone wants to use your work, image, creation what can you do? Write a contract with them to License it - that means they get to use it, but you still own it. The contract can include:

  •    Length of time they can use it (temporarily, or forever)
  •    How they can use it
  •    If they now own it (if you are transferring your copyright or if you are only loaning or licensing your work)
  •    If they are allowed to change it
  •    If you need to be credited for the work
  •    What they will pay (nothing? something?)

Creative Commons offers some fantastic resources, like template contracts and more!


How to ask someone to stop

If someone has used your work without your permission you'll want to ask them to make it right. First, make sure their use of your work infringes your rights as copyright owner. If someone is making money, profiting from your work, or stealing your work instead of paying for work, that is infringement. What do you do?

  1. Determine the individual who is responsible
  2. Send them a letter asking them to remove your work (or offer to initiate a contract with them to license the use of it - for free or for a fee)
  3. Follow up with a phone call, if you can find a number

The National Press Photographer's Association website offers a good template letter you could use.

Check out our blog on Social Media & Copyright