I had the opportunity to take an adult education class about intellectual property law and I not only found it useful, but interesting. It was taught by an attorney specializing in this field. Many of my questions regarding copyrights in relation to my artwork and writing were answered. I hope this article will do the same for you, but I am not a lawyer and this is not all there is to say on the matter. Use this as a guideline, but I suggest you consult an attorney. Laws change all the time and I am no expert.

Copyrights ©

A copyright is official proof that you have the exclusive rights to your work, and the power to grant those rights to others. When you create anything ( see list below) it is automatically copyrighted, but if your copyright is registered and issued you have more rights. If your copyright is infringed upon and you sue, you can be awarded damages and attorney fees.  You must register within 3 months of  publishing, which, I believe, includes posting on the internet. The fees are not expensive unless you have many individual items. You do have the option to register multiples, (see Registration below).

What can not be copyrighted 





Blank forms


To name a few.

The federal and state governments do not have copyright protection.

The country where work is created governs the law of copyright.

Fair Use

You can copy part or all of an article or show an artwork if you are using it for criticism, comment, research, news reporting, teaching, scholarship. Basically, if it is not for profit or commercial use. For example, if you want to use this article in a class you can make copies and hand them out to your students. Be sure the author’s name is included. But, if you want to use it to print in a book or article for example, you must get the author’s written permission. That said, if you are using an image of a fellow artist’s work or an article it is good manner and respectful to ask the artist first and always, always credit them clearly.

Copyright Infringement

If the copier had access to the original and the copy is substantially similar to the original this is copyright infringement. If the copyright owner can prove damages the infringer is liable for actual damages within certain limitations depending upon willful infringement versus an innocent infringement as well as the possibility of payment of attorney fess. This is where you would need to have your copyright registered. You cannot sue if you have not registered your copyright. The burden of proof is on the owner of the copyright.

Copying does not have to be intentional. It can be unconscious and still be a copy under the law.

There is a difference between plagiarism and infringement.  Plagiarism is an ethical and moral issue vs Infringement, a legal issue which is also attached to revenue stream as in did they make money on the infringement.

Work Made For Hire

If you create an artwork as a commission who owns the copyright? Well, if you are working as an independent artist you do, unless you specify otherwise. If you are an employee creating art for your company the company owns the copyright unless you have a written agreement stating otherwise. The transfer of ownership of a copyright must be in writing. 

Joint Work

If you create artwork cooperatively who owns the copyright depends upon several things. In the instance of a primary author who hires a secondary to help, the primary owns the copyright. If you are working as equal partners the copyright is owned jointly. For example, work prepared by two authors contributing equally merging their work and becoming inseparable or interdependent parts of a whole like music and lyrics is considered joint work.

How long does a copyright last?

Anything published and created after March 1,1989 is protected for the life of the author plus 70 years. Unpublished works created before January 1,1978 or 12/31/2002, whichever is later, is also term of life plus 70 years. If owned by a corporation a copyright lasted 95 years.


When you register a copyright you have more protection against infringement on a federal level and you can get statutory damages, a type of damages awarded in a successful claim to compensate for an injury or loss, whose amount is pre-established by statute. You can also sue for infringement and attorneys fees. Before you register you need to search copyrights in the US Copyright Office at


Online: $45 per work or $85 for a group of works, though this varies with type of work.

Mail in: $125 Obviously, they are encouraging you to register online.

You need to provide two copies of the work

Transfer Of Ownership 

When you die your copyright goes to your heirs unless otherwise specified. When you sell an artwork you hold the copyright unless otherwise specified.

Asking Permission

When you get to the point where you need to ask for permission to use something this link will be helpful.

Last Words

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article there is a lot more on the subject, but I found this to be most useful as a beginning. What struck me most was if you do not register your copyright within three months of publishing you have lost your chance to register. This one piece of information had me stop everything I was doing on social media for several months trying to decide if I wanted to register my work or not. At this point I have not made a decision, but I’m leaning toward not registering unless I feel the new work is important enough to register. 

Here is an interesting article I found regarding artists getting paid when their work is resold. And here is one relating to UK laws.