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Copyright Curiosities

In reading about the laws of copyright in regards to my work, I both confirmed things I already knew, and learned quite a bit more than that.

I already knew that copyrighted work is illegal to use without the owner's consent, and that copyright needs to be claimed prior to unauthorized reproduction in any way, else it is forfeited. 

What I did not know is the following:

  • That while it is not required to file copyright legally with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to claim copyright, filing with them makes it easier and more straightforward to fight unauthorized use of your art.
  • Selling a work does not equate to selling your copyright.  The new owner of the work is still required to get your permission to reproduce it in any way.
  • It is possible (and in many cases necessary) to provide a limited use of copyright without giving it up entirely.  For example, if a museum purchases my work, they may need to reproduce imagery of it for promotional needs, but I might not want them to use images on promotional sales materials like coffee mugs or t-shirts for profit without gaining some benefit myself, so that would be a different contract agreement.
  • Legalese is extremely difficult to navigate, and if I am working with contracts (likely), I should consult a lawyer to ensure I am getting what I need out of the deal as much as the customer/client is.
  • If I want to retain copyright for work I create specifically for a client's needs, I need to discuss this with the client prior to any work being completed, and come to an agreement ahead of time with a signed contract specifying the parameters of the copyright.  Otherwise it will likely fall entirely to the client, and I may be liable if I use the work for any other purpose.
  • If someone wants to use any or all of a work for a product (such as a movie or a postcard), that requires a licensing agreement, also written, and usually a fee will be negotiated for the use of the image.
  • Fair use allows my imagery to be used in certain circumstances without need for my permission, such as for educational purposes. 
    • I was completely unaware that using a copyrighted image in your art can be deemed infringement even if you are not going to sell it.  I wonder how this applies to royalty-free purchased clipart or stock photography?  Or pre-created Photoshop brushes?  Does the fact that I purchased it as stock photography mean that I can use it however I please?  That was certainly my understanding before now...
  • There is a possible Orphan Works act in the works that, if made legal, will make it so that as long as an artist can show reasonable attempts at contacting the copyright owner, if they prove extremely difficult or impossible to reach, the work will be deemed an Orphan Work and copyright will not apply.
  • Moral Rights allow protection of my work from mutilation or outright destruction without notification, and this right can only be transferred by written agreement.
  • Collaboration artwork allows copyright for all participants unless otherwise agreed upon in writing prior to any creation of the finished product.

Suffice it to say, there was a lot I did not know prior to examining this topic, and I consider myself thoroughly educated on the fact that there is a lot left to learn. Navigating these waters is going to be interesting in the future.  In my opinion the majority of copyright law seems to be ethical and straightforward, if a little murky around the edges in some cases (particularly fair use). For the most part, however, I am glad to be aware of it.