COPYRIGHT for Visual Artists

Every artist in the beginning of his creative career learns this term. But not every artist knows all the details of the Copyright Law. Even the experienced artists always have questions about the Copyright protection of their work. We want our clients to succeed in their artistic venture and feel safe entering the Fine Art Giclee Reproduction & Publishing world. So we decided to post this article on our website. Feel free to contact us if you have questions.

What is Copyright?
Copyright is the right to copy or reproduce an artwork and consequently sell, exhibit, etc. If you are an artist who has created an original work of art (it could be a drawing, an oil painting, a photograph, a digital art file, etc.), you own the copyright of your creation.

According to section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act., as a copyright holder, you can do the following:

- reproduce your work, for example as a Giclee;
- create derivative works based upon original work;
- sell your prints, or licence your image files;
- sell your copyright to a publisher or share it with the publisher or another artist;
- display the originals and prints publicly

Who Owns Copyrights?
From the time the artwork is created, the copyright instantly becomes the property of the author who created it. Only the author or those who inherited or purchased the rights from the author can claim the copyright of that artwork.

It seems clear yet there is still plenty of confusion going on around the subject.
For example, what if you commission an artist to paint your portrait, who owns the copyright for that portrait? Well, Read on...

Does an artist need to file for Copyright Protection or is it Automatic?
IT IS AUTOMATIC by law since January 1, 1978. No registration is required.

Although, there is such thing as filing for a copyright protection. You can fill out a form, attach photographs of your artworks and a money order and mail it to a proper agency. You can hire a layer to help you with it. It will cost you between $25 and few hundred dollars. Will that help you feel secure with your work been out there? That is for you to decide. Will that help you to defend your rights in court? They say - it is helpful.

What is an ’artist for hire’ or ’work for hire’?
If you hire an artist to create an artwork based on your idea, then you own the copyright for that work solely. The artist, who has created the work while being your employee, is called an 'artist for hire'. The employer and not the employee becomes the author and copyright owner.

There is a difference between an artist-for-hire (your employee) and a freelancer (independent contractor). If you order an artwork from a freelancer, the copyright ownership may partially or fully be retained by the freelancer. If you would like to have a solo ownership of the copyright for the artwork while commissioning an independent contractor, you need to enter a written agreement, signed by both parties, outlining the desired terms of the creation and use of the artwork.

To find out more download the PDF file below - 'Works Made for Hire Under the 1976 Copyright Act'.


Joint Copyright Ownership.
If an artwork is created jointly by 2 or several artists, all of them share the copyright in the work, unless they have agreed to different terms.

Common confusion about the rights of original artwork owners.
Sometimes artists sell their originals to collectors and think that they can not reproduce the sold artwork because some one else owns it now.

On the other hand collectors often are under impression that they can go ahead and reproduce the paintings they own and sell the prints online.

According to the Copyright Law, the ownership of an original painting, or any other work alone does not give the owner the right to reproduce. When the artwork is sold the artist loses the ownership of the artwork but still keeps the ownership of the copyright.

Hey, you can keep the artwork and sell the copyright to a publisher if that pleases your fancy :-)

Exclusive or partial copyright ownership.
You can own a copyright exclusively or transfer it or a portion of it to another party, you just have to sign the appropriate papers.

Such transfers are comparatively rare in the U.S. and are almost never knowingly engaged in by European artists. For more on this subject, go to “Related Topics” and see the pages titled “Do U.S. Owners of Works of Art Also Control the Copyrights?”

Do I have to put a Copyright Notice on my art catalogue?
Since March 1, 1989, it is optional.

DURATION (how long does a copyright last?)

Since creation of an artwork till the death of the author plus seventy years. Read more..

more resources

The United States Copyright Office
The Copyright Society of the United States of America
FACE (Friends of Active Copyright Education)
WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization)
Franklin Pierce Law Center