In the United States, artists are not required to register copyrights for their work to be protected by copyright law. When an artist creates something original, he or she owns the copyright to it automatically. No one can copy the work without an artist’s permission; although there are exceptions, that’s the main idea.

There are advantages to registering a copyright even if it’s not required. When an artist registers a copyright, a public record of the copyright is established and an infringement lawsuit can be filed. Although artists can register a copyright after someone infringes their work, the case will be harder to prove in court.

Artists can register a copyright for $35 at the U.S. Copyright Office’s website. An entire body of work can be registered under a single copyright for the same fee.

Selling artwork, not rights

When an artist sells an artwork, the artist still reserves the copyright. Even if there’s a new owner of the work, this applies whether stated in the invoice or not. It’s not a bad idea to note in the invoice what the buyer is buying and not buying. It can state the following: The artist retains full copyright of the work.

Legal disputes are for lawyers

If an artist gets involved in a legal dispute, he or she should get a lawyer. If the resolving a disagreement before it becomes a legal problem doesn’t work, getting a lawyer is the only option. They can also help artist with other legal matters such as reviewing contracts and giving advice. Yes, lawyers are expensive, but struggling artists may qualify for free legal assistance depending on where they reside or through the bar association.

Using the copyright symbol

Since the law in the U.S. protects the copyright of an image, it’s not required to use the copyright symbol with it or on it. Although, it’s not a bad idea to include a notice as an honesty reminder. Also, if a copyright notice accompanies an image, an infringer cannot claim that infringement was innocent. There are multiple ways to format a notice, but here is an example: © John Doe. It can include the symbol, year of publication, first and last name, “all rights reserved”, “courtesy of [artist name]”.

How are artists sure they’re not infringing on copyrights of other artists? 

Check out Avoiding Copyright Infringement.