Artist Tip: Copyright & Then Some

There’s so much to being an artist that I wish I could learn it all. We have to create and worry about our work getting stolen while trying to sell our work to those who appreciate it. Being an artist is full time job no matter the hours. Did you know as an artist you have more control of your work than  you may assume? If not, I created a short list of things to consider when it comes to your rights. I recommend that you use my blog as just the beginning of your educational journey as a visual artist. One big thing I’ve learned over the years of doing this professionally is that more than 50% of work include researching and learning not just 100% focused on creating. With my years of experience and knowledge I decided that I’ll be putting out an ebook soon, so be on the lookout!

What is copyright and do I have this protection as visual artist?

Copyright is the legal rights granted to you as the original creator (visual artist, digital artist, photographer, musician & more) exclusive right of distribution and use of your work. Yes, YOU, have this rights as a visual artist. Any work that you create, published or unpublished gives you full copyright of that piece of work.

Do I have to register my work?

The short answer is no, but it’s more complicated than that. It’s really up to you and how you want the protection of your work.

Informal - The old school way would be to mail yourself the original work and the postmark date will stand as the date of creation proof for you. In the digital age you can take a photo of your work and email it to yourself. On the photo there's metadata that shows the date & time that picture was taken.

Formal - Registering your work  with the Office of U.S. Copyright is the official way of establishing copyright and having it on record. There is a cost to this but it will keep you protected in a more formal manner.
Either way when it comes to filing cases with the court longest you can proof you’re the original owner you’re good. Every case is different. Registered work usually gets you a bigger payout if you’re suing for infringement but from my research cases have been won without legal registrations.

Do I need contracts?

YES!! Contracts are so important when it comes to discussing your rights as an artist. Whether you’re selling your work, showcasing it in a gallery and especially if you’re commissioned for work it’s vital that you have a contract. Contracts are a legal binding agreement between you and your client that states all permission and responsibilities between parties.
Things that should be clearly stated in your contracts:

  • Dates of use for work

  • Purpose of use (project)

  • Name of the piece (if it’s not commissioned)

  • What use is included (personal/commercial)

  • If you’re not transferring rights make sure it’s stated

*Consult with a legal advisor about how to draft up a contract*

What about licensing my work to another company?

Licensing is a good way to get your work out to a larger crowd and most of the time takes some stress off your back (shipping, order forms & such). Companies such as Redbubble & Society6 license artwork for artist to put on different merchandise and takes a percentage of sales. When using these site just make sure you understand all the terms and know that you’re giving permission to the company to use your artwork and sell for you.  

Important Take-Aways:

  • With work for hire projects you still own copyrights of the work you’re doing unless you transfer over rights in a written document.

  • If you decide to sell the rights to your client think about pricing. You should not be selling full rights to your original work for little to nothing. If you’re not getting a percentage of each sell than your cost for full rights should be higher than normal.

  • Make sure you state on your website or shop that you own full copyrights to your work. It can be in your terms section or somewhere customers can see.

  • Don’t be afraid to consult with a professional. SBA (small business association) has on free resources when it comes to your rights.

Useful Resources: