Five Steps to Copyrighting Your Art

Five Steps to Copyrighting Your Art

The copyright protection offered by the government is here to help you! It creates a public record of the copyright claim and can assist with copyright infringement if a suit is filed in court. It can also enforce your seriousness and professionalism when dealing with clients and commissions, especially when freelancing for the corporate world. So, learning the basics about copyrighting is necessary for all artists whether or not you plan to register your work. Being knowledgeable in all aspects of the business of being an artist is a must!

How easy is this process? Pretty straightforward. So I’m going to break it down into 5 easy steps.

1. Begin with having high-resolution copies of the artwork you wish to copyright prepared on hand before you apply. The largest file they will take from a typical modem is 11.3 MB. Using a fiber-optic cable allows you to send a larger file.

2. Head on over to the copyright website. There are some FAQ pages and some printable PDFs for more information. At this point, decide if you are going to electronically apply or snail mail it. Applying online (eCO) is cheaper ($35 as opposed to $50, it’s also faster and has online tracking!).

Like most online places nowadays you need to create a log in. After that, the website offers a PowerPoint to walk you through the process, but while applying, the website walks you through each step and tells you which fields need to be filled out. I took a peek at the PowerPoint but didn’t need to rely on it to figure out how everything worked.

3. Fill out the fields! Which for me was repeating my name and address like 8 times. This is necessary to establish the author, claimant, owner of the rights and permissions, correspondent, and who to mail the certificate of copyright to when the application is finalized. You also need to describe the type of work (literary, musical, dramatic, pictorial, sound, motion pictures, architectural, choreographic, etc.) The work needs to be titled and dated by the year of completion. Typically, you would submit one work to file under copyright. But you may register multiple works under one case number if the works are in a collection and are unpublished. Nothing scary! Everything is written in plain easy to understand English and easy to navigate for a first-timer.

4. Then they charge you for each claim you submit.

5. The last step is uploading (or snail-mailing) your artwork deposit. The deposit is the actual image of the work that the government keeps on file. This is much like uploading work online for art exhibitions. Simply open the upload file button, choose the work from the location on your computer and watch it load….And ta-dah! That’s it. Your copyright is effective on the date that the office receives the required elements regardless of how long the application processing takes.

Want some reference materials? As I mentioned above, Copyright.gov has thorough FAQs and materials to help you navigate your way through the many questions you have. Graphic Artists Guild also offers a digital guide on copyright for free! It simply requires you to input your email so they can send you the link to the PDF. The digital book is called Copyright Myths: Copyright Basics and Common Misconceptions Debunked.

If you are a digital artist or are creating art for printing or publishing reasons, I highly suggest registering your work with copyright. Creating contracts and licensing guidelines for your clients and commissioners also ensure that you keep all rights to your work. When you are working with your digital images, make sure you save your name and contact info as well as the copyright info into the file itself. This is possible through computer programs like Photoshop (File -> File Info).

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