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How Do Copyright Laws Affect You As A Visual Artist?

Gail Daley

Blog #35 of 45




October 3rd, 2012 - 12:45 PM

How Do Copyright Laws Affect You As A Visual Artist?

How Do Copyright Laws Affect You As A Visual Artist?
The visual arts category on the U.S. Government website, involves pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including two- and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art. Examples include paintings, photographs; original prints; art reproductions; cartographic works (maps, globes, and relief models); technical and mechanical drawings; and architectural drawings, plans, blueprints, or diagrams. Copyright protects an author’s specific expression in literary, artistic, or musical form. Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, system, method, device, name, or title.
The United States Copyright Office was created to serve the copyright community of creators and users, as well as the general public. Here you will find all key publications, informational circulars; application forms for copyright registration; links to the copyright law and to the homepages of other copyright related organizations; news of what the Copyright Office is doing, Congressional testimony and press releases; the latest regulations.
Copyright Basics - US Copyright Office U.S. Copyright Forms
Form VA - Copyright form Visual Arts Form VA with instructions
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998
Due to fast-breaking developments in the electronic storage and transmission of images, an artist is expected to have a good understanding of copyright law and how it is interpreted in our rapidly changing social and high-tech landscape. "The complex and challenging issues of copyright are now part of the daily reality of all artists who work with images".
Two basic aspects of copyright as it applies to visual artists are: what rights the artist or designer has to their own work, and what accountabilities they have when using the creative work of others. Unlike pre-internet days, images are now being broadcast all over the world and it is difficult to hide copyright infringement. Using copyright protected images to create art cheapens your portfolio; it isn’t good for your artistic integrity and you can be sued. Digital cameras now cost so little that everyone can take their own reference photos. Artists can also search the internet for photos that allow re-use (just check the “owner allows re-use” in your search filter).
With the creation of Flicker and Facebook among other photo sites, Visual artists can’t help living in an environment saturated with images. As Artists we are influenced, whether consciously or unconsciously, by everything we see around us in books, magazines, TV, the internet, and in advertising. If you use photos as reference images, you should use your own photos or public domain images. Look at the photo for inspiration but add your own creativity and "artistic license" to make the final image your own. Make sure that your image is not an exact copy of the photo. A word of warning: the “10%” use doctrine touted by many as a defense can be very subjective in a court of law and I wouldn’t want to depend on it in front of a judge. For more information on this subject, I recommend:
To Review
• These days, almost all things are copyrighted the moment they are written, and no copyright notice is required.
• Whether or not you charged money doesn’t make any difference to Copyright violations; only the damages you might have to pay out will be affected by how much money you made on your sale.
• Postings to the internet are not automatically in the public domain, and the fact you found it there doesn’t grant you any permission to do further copying except maybe the sort of copying that might have been expected in the ordinary flow of the net and only a judge can make that decision.
• Fair use is a complex doctrine meant to allow certain valuable social purposes. For more Information on Fair Use, go to Ask yourself why you are re-doing what you are working on and why you couldn't have just used the subject in your own style.
• Copyright is not lost because you don't defend it; that's a concept from trademark law. The ownership of names is also from trademark law, so a name can’t be copyrighted although it may still be protected under Trademark laws. If you want more information on Trademarks vs. Copyrights go to:
• For those writers among you Fan fiction/slash and other work derived from copyrighted works is a copyright violation; while the owner may ignore a few fun stories presented on their characters or story lines, if you try and sell it the owner will have to take notice in order to protect their copyright.
• Copyright law is mostly civil law where the special rights of criminal defendants you hear so much about on TV don't apply. Watch out, however, as new laws are moving copyright violation into the criminal realm and who knows what the future may bring. Remember all those people who went to jail or got fined millions of dollars from downloading music?
• Don't rationalize that you are helping the copyright holder by using his or her stuff; often it's not that hard to ask permission.
• While posting E-mail is technically a violation, revealing facts from E-mail you got isn't, and for almost all typical E-mail, nobody could wring any damages from you for posting it. The law doesn't do much to protect works with no commercial value.
Watermarking for Digital Images
Watermarking your work can be a way to protect your art from pirates, but nothing is foolproof. There are a couple of different types of watermarking you can use: visible and invisible.
Invisible Watermarks: Can be used for copyright protection and recognition of digital images. Unfortunately an invisible watermark may slightly alter your image. Also the technique is so new that there is not yet an “industry standard.” Please be aware also, that watermarking has not yet been tested in the court. However, most commercial printers such as Kinkos and Copy Max’s Impress use software that can detect watermarks and will refuse to make copies when they detect them. Eikonamark is one of the Software programs available for casting "invisible" watermarks on digital images and detecting these watermarks. However, I have never used it so I don’t know how much distortion it will cause to your images.
Visible Watermarks: Putting a visible watermark on art that you post to your website identifies it as yours and hopefully discourages pirates. If you have Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, look under the “Security” section of the setup dialog. You can add a semi-transparent overlay to many images automatically when you use the Web Photo Gallery Creator feature. Watermark Factory is one of the software programs to help you to protect images. You can add a visible watermark to your digital images and photos. The watermark can be your copyright or the URL of your site or your logo or just about anything else you choose.

Books on and about Copyright
The Permission Seeker's Guide Through the Legal Jungle by Joy R. Butler
All About Right for Visual Artists by Ralph E Lerner & Judith Bresler
The Professional Photographer's Legal Handbook by Nancy E Wolff
The Writer's Legal Guide: An Authors Guild Desk Reference by Tad Crawford & Kay Murray
Digital Copyright By Jessica Litman

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