Protecting Your Art: Copyrights

Your art is a personal investment of time, money, and effort. Moreover, it is your intellectual property. Protect your property, protect your copyright.

art copyright
Facebook
GOOGLE
https://www.agora-gallery.com/advice/blog/2017/08/03/art-copyright-protecting-your-work/
TWITTER
LINKEDIN

For the art world, the internet is a lot like the American frontier: full of opportunity and promise – but also a place to be wary. Today, with just a few clicks, you can share your art with a worldwide audience, meet and acquire new collectors and fans, raise money for your art projects, and make life-long friends. However, along with this convenience comes a whole new wave of dangers and drawbacks, sometimes leaving artists exposed and vulnerable.

For many artists out there, the largest looming nightmare is copyright infringementArt is your craft and your livelihood, and it is a personal investment of your time, money, effort, and soul. Moreover, it is your intellectual property. Protecting your art needs to be a priority. There are a number of ways to help you do this, and we’ve laid them out for you in a quick, simple guide.

art copyright
Did You Know? If someone clicks a picture of your art and posts it on the internet without crediting you, it qualifies as an act of copyright infringement.

Protecting Your Art Against Copyright Infringement

“Intellectual property is a property right that can be protected under federal and state law, including copyrightable works, ideas, discoveries, and inventions. The term intellectual property relates to intangible property such as patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.” – US Legal

“Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”  – United States Copyright Office

In layman’s terms, intellectual property is your right to protect your original work while a copyright is established when an original work is created tangibly (not just conceptually). However, unregistered work can often be hard to prove as your own, which is why it is important to keep digital or physical records. If you ever need to take a case to court, think about how well you can demonstrate that you are the creator of the artwork in question.

So, legally, how can you protect your art from copyright infringement?

Always Sign Your Name On Your Work

This is the first step in protecting your art against copyright violation. Adapt the habit of signing all your works, preferably with the year of completion.

art copyright
Greenland, Alaleh Ostad

You must always sign your artwork once it is finished. You could do it discreetly in a corner, or make you signature a part of the artwork, like Alaleh Ostad does. You can also sign the back of the artwork.

Register Your Work

If you’re a U.S. artist, it is recommended that you officially register your artwork with the Copyright Office of the U.S. Library of Congress. Even though a copyright is automatically in place at the moment of creation, registering the work ensures you have sufficient proof that the work is yours. It also enables you to demand more money in the event of a copyright infringement suit. Here’s how the registration process works in the United States:

  • Go to the Library of Congress website and click on the electronic Copyright Office (eCO). Fill out the registration form and pay the required fee.
  • Once the registrar’s office examines your application, they will send you an official certificate of registration. This serves as documented evidence of your copyright, which will also be filed online as a matter of public record.

We recommend that you check your country’s Copyright laws after reading this article. Although Intellectual Property laws are similar throughout, there might be some nuances and differences that you should know about.

Keep Digital Records Of Your Work

A picture is worth a thousand words – especially if someone is claiming that your work is their own. Having a digital library of your artwork will save you a lot of hassle in the event of copyright infringement, as you can present this record in court. The great thing about photographs is that their metadata often stores the date that the pictures were taken. We have a guide for taking great photographs of your artwork, but a professional photographer can also be used to ensure that two people have evidence to support any copyright infringement cases.

Related Article: Documenting The Sale Of Your Artwork

Recognize The Risks 

You create a lot of art, so it’s important to focus your copyright protection efforts where it’s going to count. For instance, if you produce art that’s more abstract or conceptual (and thus more difficult to reproduce), then your risk of copyright infringement will be substantially lower. However, if you have pieces that contain creatures or characters that could conceivably be borrowed or replicated, or if you create images that are very iconic or have high mass market appeal, then you should always protect them using the steps outlined above.

Now, those above are all great safeguards that will prepare you well if you ever need to file a claim against a copyright infringement. However, there are several easy practices to prevent the theft of your images.

Stay in touch with us! Our Newsletter is packed with inspiring stories, art tips, and Agora Gallery’s latest exhibition announcements.

Protecting Your Art On Your Website

There’s no doubt that posting your work online can be risky. At the same time, in this increasingly digital art world, online exposure is often critical to an artist’s success. While nothing is foolproof, there are some measures you can take to help protect your art on the web.

Convert Your Images to Flash

Before posting them online, you may wish to convert your images into a flash slideshow. This makes it impossible for those on the web to simply copy and paste the image. You can do this by downloading special slideshow converters or consulting a web design professional.

Only Publish Small, Low-Resolution Images

A small, low-resolution image simply isn’t worth stealing for most people. However, before you run off to resize all of your images to thumbnails, make sure you do not save them over your high-res images. Once you save an image as small and low-res, you cannot get that file to ever be high resolution again. For all you hold dear, save the web-ready version as a separate file.

Windows or Mac, you can use almost any image-editing software to resize images. From Photoshop to Paint, the process is universally pretty similar. You’ll usually find the “Resize” option under the “Edit” toolbar. Converting to lower resolution can be a little trickier.

Consider Adding Watermarks To Your Images

A watermark is a logo or name that is placed on top of an image. Watermarks credit you as the artist of your image and it is very difficult for anyone to remove/change this.

The one most used is the copyright notice, best known as the C symbol (©), plus the year the work was published, or the abbreviation Copr. You should also include the year of completion as well as your name into this watermark. It should look something like –

art copyright
This curated space image was featured on our Facebook Page, and in order to protect the image digitally created by us as well the painting of our artist, Corinne Garese, we could place a watermark to denote authorship.

Protecting Your Art On Social Media

While it’s possible for you to keep track of the number of people visiting and viewing your works on your site (and there are some good measures to protect them from being copied), once you add your images to social media there is absolutely no knowing where they will end up. However, avoiding social media altogether can be a serious disadvantage too. So, how do you protect your image? Here are some tips!

Read The Terms And Conditions

Do you promote your artwork on Instagram? How about other social media websites? Recently, artist Richard Prince sold a series of other peoples’ Instagram photographs and made out with around $100,000. Though this seems like an outright copyright infringement, the issue is actually in a legal gray-area. One thing we know for sure – these images would have been protected if they had been registered federally with a copyright. Whenever you are posting your artwork to other platforms, be sure to read the terms and conditions to determine what copyright protection your art has there.

Useful Article: How To Promote Your Art On Instagram

Always Add A Watermark To Your Image

Just like on your website, a watermark is one of the best tools to protect your art across social media. Not only does a watermark plainly tells the viewer that your work is protected by copyright, it will also help in a court case, as the other artist won’t be able to say his or her use of your work was “innocent infringement” (meaning it was copied unknowingly).

Place your watermark conspicuously across the image. Don’t just stick it on the edge – you don’t want anyone cropping the watermark out.

 

It’s increasingly important, especially in our digital age, to protect your artwork from copyright infringement. Hopefully, these safeguards and practices will ensure that your intellectual property remains your own.

With over 30 years of experience representing artists from around the world, Agora Gallery offers artists the opportunity to present their work to a broad range of national and international art collectors and buyers. Looking for an opportunity to enhance your career? Visit our Gallery Representation And Artist Promotion page for more information.

If you have any questions, let us know in the comments or email us at blogs@agora-gallery.com!

This post is also available in: Spanish

25 comments

  • Very helpful article. I was curious though, as I was filing for registration on a collection of art. I never encountered a request to submit the actual art itself. I stopped right before the “pay” tab was completedoing after I realized it only asked for names and addresses.

    • Dear Adri,

      They will probably contact you later regarding the “actual art”. Good luck!

  • Hello….I’m not sure I have a case or if anything can be done but here is my problem. My boys use to be in Scouts, during this time I designed art work for several patches for very specific events. I took on the cost of materials and time for this and the only payment was a finished set of the embroidered patches. I did this as a favor and because I wanted my kids to be proud of the patches on their uniforms for these events. As an example…..I designed several patches for the 2010 and 2013 Jamborees and many for the OA. About 3 years ago the council turned on our family and we left. Now I am finding that they are using my designs for current and future events without my permission or recognition. I have all sketches and drawings plus the original completed piece. I haven’t registered any of these items but had sent the council (at the time) digital copies to be sent out for the patches to be made. I have not designed anything new for the last 4 years. The only changes to the design may be color backgrounds or names or dates but it is clearly my overall work being reproduced. The council, and “patch traders” make a great deal of money selling and trading these patches while I receive nothing. What would be my best action to end their use of my designs? Also it would be good to note that they are a “non-profit” and my going against the council will result in further “Black Balling” from them for my family so I don’t take this lightly, Thank You.

    • Dear Janice,

      The best step to take in this situation will be to get your lawyer to draft a letter regarding the same. Make sure that it does not sound threatening, but simply aims to inform them of the copyright infringement.

      Thank you for stopping by! Do let us know how it goes and good luck!

  • I have discovered that an online printmaking/selling service has taken an image of my painting, and has attached different titles, different artists’ names and different sold products. These images are on a social site ( who have been helpful and very cooperative) I am having no luck with said company as they just blame the social company. I have registered a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. My unique signature is on these images. Is there anything further that I can do?

    • Dear Sheila,

      We suggest you or your lawyer write to the company and let them know that if your images are not removed, you will be taking legal action, which is the next step in such a situation.

      Thank You!

  • Great article – wonder if you could give more detail on the question from Odell Gardner regarding copyright of signature, which I think is only allowable if the signature is unique, etc. Would the signature then cover all digital copies that include that signature? For example, if I sign an original work with a signature that is copyrighted – then that copyright also applies to the work itself?

    • Dear Kevin,

      That’s right! A registered copyright is used for that purpose only – instead of copyrighting every work individually, you just register a copyright signature and use it on all the works. Hope this helps!

      We plan to update this article soon, and will be sure to add more information on this subject. 🙂

  • Can I just register my signature as seen on my work , in stead of trying of catalog ing every piece ?

    • Dear Odell,

      Yes, you can do that! It will save you a lot of hassle.

  • Is it helpful to indicate copyright information on the bottom of the work that is sent to the printer? I have seen this done and wondered if I should do it. IE: in the bottom right corner put my name with the copyright symbol. I’ve seen it on posters, maybe wouldn’t want it on printed art to frame.

    • Hi!

      The copyright symbol is actually used for images/works that have been officially registered. However, it is not uncommon for artists to use it to protect their works, in fact, it is quite a secure way to do so. You can do it if you wish to.

      Hope this helps.

  • This was really useful, thank you! As someone who has done favors for a few people (art for free) I’ve been looking into being a freelance artist. I’m really wary of putting my work up on art sites, because my biggest fear is having someone steal my work and take credit for it. The internet is great for promoting yourself, especially when you just start your career as an artist. What is the best way to go about setting up a contract and a method of payment? I don’t want to get screwed over.

  • Thank you so mych fie the information it is sk helpful

  • Hi! Great guide and thanks! This cleared up a lot of questions i had before i read this. I do have one aditional one. If I register to copyright my work. Is it necessary to have the name of my business trademarked? It will be signed on everything i do as a watermarked as explained above.

    • Hi Brittany,

      No, it is not necessary to have your business trademarked, However, you should check in with your local copyright laws just to make sure.

      Hope this helps!

  • I am interested in how to protect copyrights of my artwork which file is sent to a print shop for print it out.
    Is there any effective way to keep track of this given file?

    Regards.

    • Dear Arthur, unfortunately, we’re not aware of any effective ways of keeping track of an electronically sent file. Once you send your file over the email, it’s gone.
      With that said, you could probably ask the print shop to destroy it after they’re done printing the images. We’ve also heard that there are ways to make digital information available only for a certain amount of time, like 24 hrs, for example. But this is not our area of expertise and we would advise you to consult with a developer.
      Hope this helps!

  • The most clear and easy to follow advice for new artists. Thanks

  • Great tutorial and very useful information. Thanks

  • Thank you! Some great advice here!

    • Thank you! We’re always glad to be of assistance.

      Be sure to let us know if there are any guides you’d like to see in the future!

  • Your info re:protection of art works is one of the most comprehensive and easily understood that I have read. Thank you for all this valuable information.

    • Hi, Charlotte! We’re so glad that we were able to help. Let us know if there are any other guides you’d like to see in the future!

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *