Sunday, December 19, 2010


How to Best Copyright Your Art Work
Carolyn Edlund ArtsyShark

Recently I read a long series of posts and discussions about an artist who felt that her work had been copied and used without permission by a large company. There was considerable anger out there in the creative community about this type of abuse, and it got a lot of reactions, but also caused a lot of confusion about copyrights and how artists can protect their work.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to speak with jeweler and attorney Sarah Feingold, who is general counsel for Etsy. Sarah has written a very useful and informative ebook about copyrights and how they work for artists, and kindly forwarded me a copy. I was pleasantly surprised, and learned a lot about the subject, which I would recommend to others. Copyright For Artists is clearly written and understandable, and doesn’t use “legalese”, so you will get a lot of great information without your eyes glazing over. Here are just a few of the questions she addresses, which will be of interest to artists:

• What’s the difference between a copyright, a trademark, and a patent?
• What type of work can I copyright? What can’t I copyright?
• How do I get a legal copyright? How much does it cost?
• What can I do if someone copies my work?
• What if I am accused of copyright infringement?
• Are copyrights enforced internationally?
• Can I transfer my copyright?
• If I put my work online, can someone steal it?

. . . this is just a sampling of the FAQ section, which runs for eight pages (!) The rest of the book gives precise instructions, talks about gray areas, lists resources to find the right governmental agency, or get legal help, and will answer just about any question you can think of about copyrights. Included are handy charts with comparisons and summaries which make it easy to use. I highly recommend it for any artist out there who wants to feel confident that they have protected their work legally and correctly.

So . . . back to that original issue of the artist who felt her work had been ripped off. Sarah made a point to address that point. Her suggestion is “don’t freak out”. If need be, turn off the computer and step back from the emotional jolt of feeling that someone has copied your work without permission. Give a lot of thought before you jump into action threatening lawsuits. If you feel that you need to take action, and you are protected by virtue of copyright protection, get competent legal advice on how to proceed.

There are many examples of copyright infringement out there, and Sarah mentions one in her book which turned out to be a win/win:

Andy Warhol was notorious for his paintings of Campbell’s Soup cans, and was sued by Campbell Soup Company for copyright infringement. But Warhol and his works became so popular that the corporation later decided his paintings were actually good, free, advertising, so they let him continue his use.

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