What You Should Know About Copyright Registration for Artists

Copyright Registration for Artists - Pros and Cons
Andy Warhol Limited Edition Prints, Portfolios | Image source: josephklevenefineartltd.com

The average artist spends more time creating than marketing their work. With the increase of copyright infringement and theft, artists must take steps to protect their art. Copyright registration provides a record of ownership as well as legal protection against unauthorized use or distribution.

There is always an upside and downside to everything, including copyright registration. Some people may not want to register their work because they feel like they are giving up some ownership rights, while others may feel more comfortable with it. There are also benefits associated with registering your work — one being that if someone copies your art without permission or credit given, you can take legal action.

Copyright registration is a common practice among artists to protect their work and ensure they are compensated for it. However, there are many factors to consider before registering copyrights. This blog post will outline both the benefits and disadvantages of copyright registration and fully explain what copyright and copyright registration entails.

Copyright Basics

Copyright registration is a confusing topic for many artists, regardless of their medium of expression. Still, it’s essential to know the benefits and downsides to make an informed decision. While this is not legal advice, the information we provide is taken from the Copyright Law and Intellectual Property Law so that you can start your search here.

We’ll start with some basics — what is copyright?

Copyright is an intellectual property right that protects original works of authorship, including artworks like paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculptures. It typically gives the owner exclusive rights to reproduce or sell their work and control any adaptations made from that work (or derivative) without permission from the author. In other words, if someone creates something original, they own it! Copyright protects your artwork from being used by others without permission, which can be beneficial if you want to sell your art or license it out as stock photography, for example.

Copyright protection begins on the date that the work was created. The registration formalizes your claim to copyright ownership and provides you with certain rights, such as being able to seek damages in a copyright infringement lawsuit or assign your interest in your work. If you are looking to have a long art career, this is something worth exploring.

However, copyright registration is an expensive and complicated process that may not be worth the cost, depending on how often you create new artwork. But, if you have a copyright, and someone does steal your work, there’s nothing they can do with it legally. It can be challenging to know what is best for your situation, and so we will go over the pros and cons of copyright registration below.

One of Marcel Duchamp’s reproductions of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, on which he penciled a beard and mustache, has sold for €632,500 (around 750,000 US dollars) at Sotheby’s in Paris in 2017. | Image source: news.cgtn.com

What is Copyright Registration?

Copyright registration is the act of officially registering artwork with the United States copyright office. When you register, it means that if someone steals your work and uses it without permission, they can be prosecuted for copyright infringement (even if you want to sell or license out your art).

Furthermore, copyright registration is necessary if you want to file an infringement lawsuit. If someone has infringed on your copyright and there are no formal records of it, then the artwork can be taken from you without compensation! For a court to award damages in a suit (or issue an injunction), they need proof that you own the copyrighted work.

There are two types of copyright registration: an application form (or cover letter) and a certificate of registration. An applicant can submit one or more works for copyright protection, but each piece must have the same owner and title. The fees start at $35 at this time, and that is for electronic registration of a claim in a group of serials (per issue, minimum two issues). If you register a claim in an original work of authorship, a single piece will cost you $45 if it’s the single author, same claimant, one-piece, not for hire. The changes in prices highly depend on your needs, and you can look them up on the website of the U.S. Copyright Office.

Registration can be done electronically or in person at the copyright office (located near Capitol Hill) and takes about two months to process once submitted. If you register online, you will need an email address to fill out the form. Copyright registration records only your claim of ownership — not the copyright itself — but it is a necessary step for filing an infringement lawsuit.

Registration includes your name and information on when you created the work, who published and distributed your original work of authorship, and any prior lawsuit. Registration also gives public notice that your claim has been made in court in the U.S.

Advantages of Copyrights and Their Registration

Copyright registration allows artists to get paid more when others use their work without permission, protects against plagiarism, helps artists own their work if they have been commissioned by someone else (such as a company or individual), and prevents others from claiming ownership of their ideas.

The most significant benefit to copyright registration is the ability to file infringement lawsuits against people who unlawfully use your work without permission or credit. Copyright protection prevents someone from using your artwork in any way, including printing it on T-shirts or turning it into an emoji set. To file a copyright infringement claim, you need only prove that:

  1. You own the copyrighted material;
  2. Somebody else used it without your permission; and
  3. You were harmed by this.

Registration is the only way to get copyright protection. If you didn’t register the copyright before someone used your work without permission or credit, you wouldn’t be entitled to damages in an infringement lawsuit.

However, if you register before an infringement occurs, the statutory damages award and attorney’s fees are available from a copyright infringer in a lawsuit. As those costs can range from $750 to $30,000 — per work infringed — this should be a good incentive to register your copyright as soon as possible.

As you can see, this is paramount in providing peace of mind for artists who want to maintain control over their work.

Additionally, you will have a public record of your copyright from the date it was registered until 70 years after your death (or 95 years after publication if unpublished). This means that your work will be protected for a long enough time for you to not worry about it.

Andy Warhol artwork “Dollar Sign” | image source: hhs.se

Disadvantages of Copyrights and Their Registration

Copyright registration can cost quite a bit depending on what you are registering at one time and its amount, which may not be worth it if an artist has only created one piece that would qualify for this process. Additionally, a filing fee for online registrations may be accompanied by an extra processing fee if you want back copies of your certificate.

The current US Copyright Office fees start from $35 (or more if you are registering multiple images), and that it only offers limited protection for copyrighted material. The latter means a copyright holder cannot stop someone who copies their work but then changes even one part of it. For instance, if someone infringes on your work by copying it and then changes one word or adds their own commentary to the content without using quotes — this could mean you’ll have to spend time going back and proving they are quoting from you for them to be penalized.

Furthermore, the most notable con is that once a piece of art has been registered, it cannot be changed or altered in any way without risking infringing on someone else’s copyright for their own version of the same image. For instance, if you see something wrong with one of your pieces (for example, a smear you did not notice until now), you cannot simply fix it. It would require a lengthy process that also might cost you as much as when you were registering the copyright.

It is also possible that someone else may have already registered your copyrighted material before you do, which means they will be considered the legal owner and not you. Understanding these risks and deciding whether this option suits your needs or not is up to each artist.

If you want to talk to other artists and hear their experiences with copyright registration, head over to ARTDEX — a place for art collectors, artists, art dealers, and curators to manage collections online and connect with one another. It fosters a community of artists and art lovers, where you can ask any questions that you have about copyright, which may help you find the information you need to lead you to your final decision!


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