Thursday, September 18, 2008
Part I; A Primer On Copyrights
Something we artists battle continuously on the internet is the problem of people taking our images and using them for their own purposes. There seems to be this widespread belief that if an image is on the internet, it's copyright free. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Amazingly, this belief is held by artists as well as non artists!
Let me spell out the most important facts for everyone to understand about copyright law.
1. A WORK OF ART IS PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT FROM THE MOMENT OF CREATION.
2. THERE DOES NOT HAVE TO BE A COPYRIGHT NOTICE ON THE ARTWORK FOR IT TO BE PROTECTED.
3. THE ARTWORK DOES NOT HAVE TO BE REGISTERED WITH THE COPYRIGHT OFFICE TO BE PROTECTED.
4. THERE IS NO PERMISSIBLE PERCENTAGE OF AN ARTWORK THAT CAN BE COPIED WITHOUT INFRINGING ON THE ARTIST'S RIGHTS.
If you don't know anything else about copyright law, know these four facts.
How do these facts translate into everyday living?
They mean that my artwork is protected by copyright from the moment that I make a mark on a sheet of paper or canvas. If you want to paste my painting onto your website to decorate it, you have to ask my permission. If you want to copy my drawing, you have to ask permission, and you cannot claim that your copy is your own original work of art. It is not; it is a copy. If you want to use one of my note cards to decoupage onto a wooden box, you have to ask permission. If you want to use one of my paintings on t shirts and sell them, you must ask for a licensing contract for the right to do so. I will rent to you the right to use that image on specific merchandise for a specific period of time, and in return you will pay me a royalty for the right to do so.
There is a fifth point about copyright that is important to remember.
5. ALWAYS, ALWAYS ASSUME THAT AN IMAGE IS PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT NO MATTER WHERE YOU FIND IT.
See numbers one and two above. The only works of art that are not protected by copyright are those that have fallen into the PUBLIC DOMAIN.
There are also misconceptions about what is the PUBLIC DOMAIN. It is NOT artwork that contains no copyright notice or signature. It is NOT artwork that appears on the internet. It is NOT artwork and photos that you find displayed in Facebook or MySpace or on Webshots or Smugmug or any other photo display site.
Artwork in the PUBLIC DOMAIN is artwork whose copyrights have expired or whose copyright holders have released it into the PUBLIC DOMAIN. You can assume these days that a copyright has expired only after the artist has been dead for 70 years. That would mean that any artist who died after 1938 would still have valid copyrights held by his or her heirs.
And finally, one last point to remember which has to do with your own copyrights.
6. COPYRIGHT APPLIES TO PERSONAL PHOTOS AND ARTWORK AS WELL AS PROFESSIONAL PHOTOS AND ARTWORK.
This means that all of your family photos that you post on the internet and all of your writings are also protected by copyright. No one else may use them or display them without your permission.
Be aware of your rights, and respect the rights of others. Ask permission!