How to Copyright Sculptures

by Victoria McGrath

A sculptor automatically secures "common law" copyrights in a sculpture as soon as it is created and fixed in a tangible form. Any sculpture fixed in any tangible form qualifies for copyright protection. A rough sketch of a sculpture on a napkin, a preliminary blueprint, a detailed mold or a photographic image of a sculpture fulfills the minimal qualifications for automatic copyright protection. Optional federal copyright registration of a sculpture, such as a visual work of art, provides additional benefits. Federal copyright registration creates a legal presumption of ownership rights, access to the federal courts for infringement claims and general public notification throughout the nation.

Step 1

Fix the sculpture in a tangible form. Sketch the sculpture before it is created and photograph it after it is completed. Register the sculpture as a stand-alone sculpture or as part of a collection. A stand-alone sculpture can be registered as a single visual work. More than one sculpture can be registered as a collection of unpublished or published works.

Step 2

Visit the United States Copyright Office website to review the registration procedures. Start with which works are protected. A sculpture qualifies for copyright protection under the visual arts category, as pictorial, graphic and sculptural works.

Step 3

Organize sketches or photographs of the sculpture to submit with the application. Deposit a complete copy of the images that best captures all the copyrightable content of the sculpture. Review the United States Copyright Office Circular 40A on "Deposit Requirements for Registration of Claims to Copyright in Visual Arts Material."

Step 4

Verify that the complete copy is in pristine condition and undamaged. The complete copy should capture every aspect of the sculpture and from each angle. Include close-up images of specific details in the sculpture.

Step 5

Select the best edition of the art work available prior to the date of deposit. For sculptures, the best edition refers to the best sketches or photographs of the sculpture. In general, the best edition refers to the largest format available, such as one that is in color, as opposed to black and white, and printed on high-quality archival paper.

Step 6

Follow the specifications for identifying material required for three-dimensional sculptures. The term identification material specifically refers to the two-dimensional drawings, transparencies or photographs that you will submit to represent the sculpture. These two-dimensional images should be at least 3-by-3-inches and no larger than 9-by-12-inches.

Step 7

Include the title and dimensions of the sculpture on at least one piece of identifying material. The title must appear on the front, back or mount of the identifying material. Add the exact dimensions of the art work next to the title.

Step 8

Select the correct registration form, based on your filing preferences. Use form CO to file an online application through the Electronic Copyright Office, upload digital photos and receive an online confirmation of application.

Step 9

Alternatively, submit a paper application through the mail, using the Visual Art Form VA or Short Form VA. Keep in mind that the paper process costs more and takes longer.

Step 10

Complete the copyright registration application. Include the title of the work, name and address of the author, type of work authored, and year of creation and publication. Provide your contact information, sign the application and pay the registration fee.

Step 11

Send the identification material to the Copyright Office, if you have not uploaded it during the online application process.