How to Copyright a Webcomic

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

How to Copyright a Webcomic

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

If you have created a comic or similar graphic design and published it on the internet, you might wonder how to protect your work from infringers. The good news is that you already hold the rights to your work just by creating it. As long as your webcomic is an original, creative work, it is copyrightable. You must fix the comic in a tangible medium of expression (i.e. place it in a form where the public can see or read it).

Smiling man using desktop computer

Your copyright in the comic grants you exclusive rights to distribute, display, copy, sell and make derivative works based on your comic. It also entitles you to allow others to use your comic through a license. This lasts the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. After this time period, the copyright passes into the public domain, and members of the public can use the work without a license.

Elements That Might be Copyrightable

In addition to your comic as whole, certain elements of your comic may also be copyrightable. For example, courts have determined that both Batman and the Batmobile are elements of Batman comic books that are protected under this right. Protection extends not only to a work as a whole but also to sufficiently unique elements contained within a work, such as comic book characters. The character must have consistent and distinctive character traits and attributes in order to qualify for copyright protection.

Courts have ruled that the character James Bond qualifies for copyright protection because James Bond maintains certain distinct characteristics, such as his cold-bloodedness; overt sexuality; love of martinis shaken, not stirred; license to kill; and sophistication. In contrast, a stock character, such as a magician in standard magician's garb, would not likely qualify for copyright protection because the character is not uniquely expressive.

Registering a Comic

Copyright law automatically protects your work as soon as you create it. However, it is a good idea to register your work anyway, as registration provides the owner with additional legal rights and protections in the event of copyright infringement.

  • Create your comic. To ensure protection, keep it in a tangible form that you can easily reproduce (a digital file or paper copy).
  • Submit Form VA, for works of visual art, to the U.S. Copyright Office.
  • Pay the required fee. U.S. Copyright Office Circular 4 lists and explains fees.

You must register your copyright in order to sue someone for infringement. It is best to register before you need to sue someone for infringement; if you do not do it beforehand, then it's best to register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office as soon as possible after learning that someone has infringed your comic, design, or any copyrightable element of your work. Registering your work within three months of the infringement, or prior to when the infringement starts, may entitle you to additional damages.

Creative Commons License

A Creative Commons license entitles others to use, share, and modify your work based upon certain limitations. The exact terms of such a license are up to you. For example, you can prevent others from modifying your comic, or opt to deny any commercial uses of your comic. A creative commons license does not change your ownership in your copyright; it merely grants others the ability to use your work. Individuals who seek to use your work, or licensees, must first get your permission in order to do so, and generally they must also credit you as the owner of the work.

If you authored a webcomic and want to protect your creation so no one else infringes on your rights as the original creator, consider registering your work. While you have immediate copyright protection after creating your comic, you can enhance that protection by submitting the applicable form to the U.S. Copyright Office. Once you register, you'll be better protected against violators.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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