How to Copyright Original Artwork

by Tom Streissguth
Original artwork is protected by federal copyright law.

Original artwork is protected by federal copyright law.

Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

If you've created a work of art, you legally hold the copyright in that work. If you want greater protection of your rights, however, you need to take a further step: registration. This puts your work "on record" as your property, and allows you an important advantage if you want to file a claim against anyone who uses your art without permission.

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Reason to Register

Once you've fixed a work of art in tangible form, you hold the legal copyright as the creator of that work. If anyone copies or uses your work without your permission, they've violated your rights. You are entitled to sue the copyright infringer for any profits they made from your work. If you register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office, you can also claim damages up to $150,000, as well as attorney fees and court costs.

Registering a Copyright

When you register a copyright, you establish yourself as the artist and set a date for the creation of the work. There is time, money and paperwork involved, but the process has become quite a bit speedier with the federal US Copyright Office website. You can submit the registration electronically or by mail; the fee is lower for the online service. You can also get help from an online legal document service, which will walk you through the process and provide the necessary forms.

Submission of Copies

In order to register a copyright, you must submit copies of your work. You can take this last step by uploading electronic images through the online service, or mailing copies of the work, such as a photograph. If you have more than one work of art to copyright, you can request a batch copyright. There is no limit on the number of works of art you can register.

Notice of Copyright

The final step in the process is to mark the work as registered; although the law doesn't require it, this step warns potential infringers. This involves adding a copyright symbol to the work and to all reproductions of the work. In addition, you must identify yourself as the creator, and give the year of the copyright. It's legal to identify a work as copyrighted even if you haven't registered it.