Knowing how to copyright your artwork can seem daunting, but it's actually a pretty easy task. A few years ago, I had a workshop booklet of mine ripped off. This person copied, word for word, my entire Floral Watercolor Booklet that I used for my in-person workshops. Along with all the words being copied, the images or art used in the booklet was incredibly similar. Unfortunately, this wasn't the first time it had happened to me…or the last. Because I teach workshops and write books, I expect my work to be copied. See this blog post here to read about the difference between copying and learning. But when an entire piece of literary work AND art is duplicated, it's time to take action.
So, before any of this happens to you, let's answer a few questions about what, and how to go about copyrighting your work.
Important note before we begin: This post is not legal advice. It is for educational purposes only based on my personal experience and knowledge. I always recommend first that you consult with an attorney for all legal issues related to your business, including copyrights.
Common Copyright Questions and Tips
Should I copyright all of my artwork?
From the second something is created, copyright is established. However, work that isn't registered is much harder to prove that it is, in fact, yours. So, before you go registering each piece of work, think about ways you can prove ownership:
Keep digital records of your work.
Having a photograph or high-quality scan of your art can show when the art was created within the metadata of the photograph or in the scanned date.
Sign and date your work.
This isn't as solid as the first option, because just anyone can sign and date something whenever.
Which pieces should you register?
While I'm no lawyer, my recommendation for this question would be: consider the risks first. Before you go through the entire application process and paying the fees to copyright every piece of work you've ever done, consider the risks first. Whatever you create, whether it's literary, painting, images, how easy could it be for someone to rip off that piece of work?
For example, if it's a really complex or abstract painting, this is unique and makes it difficult for someone to rip off, whereas something like literary work from a blog post or in an e-book can be copy and pasted very easily.
Another risk could be how many eyes come across the work. Is it something that you're posting to social media and therefore have visual proof of you creating the work? Or is it artwork that is going into stores as in the case for licensing? It might be helpful to register copyrights on work that is being produced at a larger scale, so you can protect it and not feel so exposed or vulnerable if, in fact, you do need to pursue action.
Important note: you cannot take legal action or file an infringement suit until your copyright is registered!
How to Copyright Your Work
Alright so, once you determine what you should or shouldn't protect by registering a copyright, let's talk HOW:
Note: Because I'm based in the US, I'm going to give insights based on what I've done. If you're outside of the US, the steps will likely be similar, but through a different website. You can find where to file in your specific country by just doing a quick google search!
Registering a copyright is relatively simple. The website can be a headache to look at and the application process can make most creatives get a bit dizzy, but it's doable. Copyrights can cost around $30-$60 if you do the process on your own, or $150-$250 if you hire a lawyer/professional file for you.
If you're doing it on your own, here are the general steps:
- Register your work through Copyright Office of the U.S. Library of Congress.
- Click on the electronic Copyright Office (eCO) and fill out the registration form and pay the fee.
- Once this is submitted, the registrar's office will examine your application. Once it's approved, you'll receive a certificate proving you registered the work…aka evidence of copyright. This will be filed online for public record, but make sure you also keep this copy in your records!
With more and more people starting creative careers, and with social media, protecting your work is becoming increasingly important. While I personally don't register a copyright for every single thing I create, I definitely consider the risks and assess what I should and should not file. Hopefully, this post has encouraged you to at least start keeping records of your work to protect in that way, and given you the resources and steps when you are considering to go through the filing process.