Copyrights 2: Protecting Your Work
Copyright laws are intended to protect creative works from unauthorized use.
But because others may not understand the artist’s legal rights, or may not respect them, artists must take active measures to protect their work.
As soon as a creative work is fixed in tangible form, it is automatically “copyrighted” and given full legal protection. With a few limited and specific exceptions, others may not copy or reproduce the work in any form without the artist’s permission. This is true even if the work does not have a copyright notice, and is not registered with the US Copyright Office. Still, copyright notices and registration can be useful.
A copyright notice is a good way to “keep honest people honest.” Since many people believe that a work is not protected unless there is a copyright notice, adding such a notice is a good way to tell people that the work is protected.
A copyright notice can be as simple as:
Copyright © 2010, Bob Nicholson.
Or as complicated as:
Copyright © 2010, Bob Nicholson. All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without the prior written permission of the creator. Unauthorized reproduction of this work may be subject to civil and criminal penalties.
Obviously, you won’t want to put a lengthy copyright statement on each work you produce, and you may not even want such a lengthy statement on your website. However, a website gives you another option: you can place a simple notice on each page, and link it to a more complete notice.
(ArtChain.com offers a pop-up copyright notice that you can place on your website click here for details.)
You may also choose to register your copyright(s) with the US Copyright Office. The process is simple, and currently costs $45 per registration. You may also register a collection of work for a single fee.
While your work is legally protected even without registration, in the event that you ever need to sue someone for copyright infringement, you will be able to claim statutory damages in addition to actual damages. In other words, you can ask the court for more money from the person who copied your work… which may make someone think twice before reproducing a registered work.
You may also find that your work has been reproduced by someone outside the United States. In order to bring a copyright infringement suit in a foreign court, you’ll need to have a valid US Copyright Registration.
Watching for Copyright Violations
Of course, your work may well be copied with you ever knowing about it.
There are commercial services that monitor websites and publication to see if they infringe your work, but these services are costly, and don’t make sense for most artists unless your work commands very high prices.
However, you can create your own informal “monitoring service” by asking friends and colleagues to alert you if they see copies of your work. This can be surprising effective. In one case, an artist was notified by a friend that her artwork was being sold on t-shirts in Australia!
You can also use the “image search” feature in Google to periodically search for your works by name. Surprisingly, many people who copy artwork on the web don’t even bother to change the file names or image title!
In the next article, we’ll discuss your recourse if someone violates your copyrights.
Neither the author of this document nor the operators of this website are attorneys or accountants. The information presented here should be considered a general overview. This information does not constitute legal or financial advice.