Without copyrights, pieces of visual art can be copied, altered, published or re-published, mutated and even stolen without the consent or knowledge of their creator. Therefore, if you are the artist behind a work that may be susceptible to any of these actions, it is important that you be familiar with copyright law so you can claim legal protection over your original material. Because intellectual and artistic theft and piracy has become so commonplace in the age of technology, it is more critical than ever to make sure your creations are legally considered yours and unable to be taken away from you. Whether you are using your art to make a profit, and whether you wish to copyright all of your art works or not is up to you. Still, it is smart to know how the copyrighting process works, regardless of whether you choose to take advantage of its benefits.
Things to Consider When Obtaining a Copyright on Your Artistic Creation
Copyrights grant you free and unlimited access to all the rights an author is able to have over her or his own creation, including taking legal action against those who copy, steal or mutate a work. As a copyright holder, you will have the ability to make reproductions of your art work in any form you see fit and distribute these copies as you wish. You will have the right to publish or re-publish the work in any format and in any digital or physical location, in addition to displaying it publicly. You will also have the legal right to create derivatives of the original artwork and do whatever you like with these.
One of the first things you will want to consider as an artist is whether your piece of art is eligible for copyright protection. Generally, if your work exists in a recorded, fixed and static format and is pictorial, visual, graphic, sculptural or architectural in nature, it is able to be copyrighted. Both two and three-dimension artistic materials can be copyrighted. Even ornaments that are included with useful articles, such as household furniture and appliances, can be copyrighted as long as they are considered visual art. The original blueprints of uniquely designed buildings are considered protectable visual art, too.
If you are not sure if your work fits into the category of visual art, it is advisable to consult a copyright lawyer who will have more specific insight on what counts and what doesn’t. Some pieces of art may be complex, including elements that are both able to be copyrighted and unable to be copyrighted, in which case you will want to ask for an attorney’s assistance.
Submitting Your Copyright Claim
Once you have determined whether your work is able to be protected, applying for a copyright is a fairly simple process. You can choose to apply to the Register of Copyrights through the Library of Congress either by mail or online. Here are the basics of both methods of application:
- By mail: Enclose your visual art work to be copyrighted in an envelope or package (if possible). In the package, you will want to include a completed copyright application form and the appropriate payment made out to “the Register of Copyrights.” Depending on the nature of the piece, you may be asked to submit one or two copies of it, or simply something that identifies it. Next, send this complete package into the Library of Congress, and your copyright will go into effect on the business day that it is received in full.
- Online: Making a copyright claim online may be an easier and cheaper way to go. For details on online applications, consult the helpful forms and instructions located at Copyright.gov.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.