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How to Best Copyright Your Work

How to Best Copyright Your Work


You can’t be a successful artist without creative innovation, a proper education, and … an extensive understanding of legal rights? It’s sad but true: Most artists would be helpless victims of theft without the protection of copyright laws. In an age where your art can be copied, uploaded to the web, and made available worldwide in seconds, it’s good to know you have a way to fight back.

So how do you go about copyrighting your work? It’s simple, really. Here are some easy steps to take to protect your artwork!

Register with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress

Registering your work with the U.S. copyright authorities is a must.

Copyright laws, which cover published and unpublished works, ensure other thieves (including other artists) can’t steal your creations without legal repercussions. They protect visual and written works including paintings, essays, photographs, and sculptures, and help establish reproduction limitations. For example, a properly copyrighted work can only be copied by its owner, who can also limit the rights of each work. So you can make a painting and sell it as prints in a web store like Etsy or, but no one else can make prints without your permission. If they do, you can sue them for damages.

According to the Copyright Office, you don’t have to register a copyright notice for every work you create. The most recent copyright law says “copyright legally belongs to the artist from the moment of creation,” meaning you can challenge a copycat in court if you prove your work is original. But the Office says it’s in every artist’s best interest to register every work because doing so establishes it as prima facie evidence in a court of law. This means the original creator and his work gets the burden of proof in court, where registered art is “sufficient to prove a fact.” Details of this law are found in the copyright basics section here. Also, you can sell the full copyright of your art only if you register it, and you can also demand more money in court.

The registration process itself is quite easy.

You need to fill out a copyright registration notice (available to print from an online form), to the Library of Congress at:

Library of Congress Copyright Office 101 Independence Avenue, SE. Washington, D.C. 20559 6000

• The day the Copyright Office receives the package is the day your registration becomes official.

• If your work is first published in a foreign country, you need to include two copies of the work as a mandatory provision deposit “within three months of publication.”

• You can also register online through the electronic Copyright Office (eCO). In fact, the Office prefers online registrations because it’s faster to process “big media” files, like songs, large painting files, and movies. The fee is also cheaper and you can track the status of your file online.

• Once the registrar’s office examines your applications, you’re given an official certificate of registration, which arrives through snail mail within 5 months of submission. Then, evidence of your copyrighted work will be available online and you can link to this public record from any web property, like a Flickr artist page.

Next: Web Copyrights →

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