What copyright protections are available for artwork?

Glenn W. Peterson

If you have a piece of artwork that you would like to copyright, it may be beneficial for you to learn what protections you can actually seek and receive for your art. Although there are particular aspects to copyright law that are specific to this medium, most of the protections afforded to other forms of authorship are granted to your artwork as well.

According to the United States Copyright Office, every piece of artwork is considered covered under copyright laws regardless of whether or not it is registered with the Copyright Office. This means that no matter what you create, you have the legal rights to your artwork and no one else can take those rights away from you without legal action. These rights are clear-cut and give you, as the creator and owner of your artwork, the right to perform the following actions:

  • Distribute copies of your artwork by selling, leasing or lending
  • Reproduce your art using copies or phono records
  • Create derivative works based off of your original art
  • Display your art publicly as you deem appropriate

You can also grant others the right to perform these actions without losing your individual protections to your art.

Since you are not required to formally register or publish your artwork with the copyright office, you are also not required to use a copyright notice to maintain any protections offered under the law. This notice serves as a warning to others that the piece of art being viewed is protected against unlawful use. This information should be used for educational purposes only, and not taken as legal advice.