How To Copyright Artwork

Coming up with a great piece of artwork in the past used to mean visiting galleries and making deals with them so that you can show it to as many people as possible.

Nowadays, however, it’s becoming easier and easier to share your artwork with a large Internet audience.

What’s more, if your artwork is good enough and you create it regularly, you can even gather quite a following around it and even create a brand that you can use to make your artwork more valuable on the market if you want to sell it.

In this article, we will explain in detail the various ways how to copyright artwork. Mostly, this comes down to copyright, but it also involves several other procedures that can help you reduce the likelihood of your art getting stolen or otherwise illegally distributed online.

Without further ado, here’s the deal.

Now, as great as these new possibilities are for young artists, as you have grown more popular and your work more recognizable on and offline, the risk of people wanting to steal your hard work will gradually increase, too.

So, if you want to work online and create a recognizable brand that will help you win new internet audiences and earn money doing it, it might be a good idea to try to protect your art somehow to prevent people from stealing your intellectual and artistic property.

While protecting your art on the Internet may seem like a tough prospect, there are multiple ways of doing it, so even if you’ve never taken steps to protect your artwork before, you can still have quite a lot of success doing it – if you follow the right steps.

Before we delve deeper into what you can do to protect your artwork, it’s important first to understand copyright infringement.

Simply put, copyright infringement is getting your art stolen from you.

This can happen in several ways, and the severity of these infringements varies depending on who stole your art and at what end.

For example, if someone takes an image of your art and posts it on their social media without crediting you (adding your name or a link to your website within their post), this is an act of infringement because no one will know that you made this piece of art.

On the other hand, copyright infringements can be more sinister, as in a situation where a big company takes a logo you drew, for example, and then doesn’t credit you or compensate you in any way.

So, copyright infringement would include these two scenarios as well as everything in between – from someone illegally copying your art to people crediting themselves for your art without buying off the rights to this work of art from you first.

Now that we’ve seen what copyright infringement is let’s dive deeper into understanding what you, as an artist, can do to prevent this from happening to you.

As you will see, there are multiple ways to do this, and these methods are not mutually exclusive.

So, to comprehensively protect your artwork, the best overall option would be to use as many of the suggestions below as you can.

Sign Your Name on Your Artwork

signing on artwork

One of the first steps to protecting your artwork from illegal distribution would be to sign your name on it.

As simple as this sounds, it does quite a lot to prevent someone from stealing your art, especially if you create real-life tangible paintings that are displayed in galleries and other places.

This method of proving your ownership of a piece of art is nothing new, as famous artists from the middle-ages and way before usually signed their names, or at least their initials on their works of art, so that everyone who looks at it knows who made it.

When it comes to placing your signature on a piece of art, you want to make it not too big as to avoid compromising the beauty of the painting itself (if it is a painting), but also not so small that an on-looker would need a magnifying glass to read the name.

Also, make sure to put your name in the corner of the artwork, and to place your name on the back of it, too.

On the back of your artwork, you can also include some other pieces of information about you, which can help identify the author easier if your work of art gets stolen, for example.

Of course, putting your signature on your art is not reserved only for real-life paintings, as you can and should also do for digital art.

Register the Artwork

The next step for protecting your intellectual and artistic property, including artwork, would be to register it in your country’s copyright office or department.

Here, you can submit your artwork for review, and after the committee has ensured that you are the rightful owner, you will get an official certificate confirming this.

Depending on where you live, this process will differ, as countries have different laws regarding copyright infringement and intellectual property protection.

In the US, for example, the institution to go to would be the Library of Congress Copyright Office. Here, you can submit your artwork and ask for it to be registered under your name.

The great thing about this institution in the US is that you will not have to go there personally in most cases, as they have a website that you can visit and complete the registration process online.

The only tricky part with protecting your artwork this way is that getting an official copyright certificate can take a long time. On average, artists who want to protect their artwork this way have to wait seven months (in the US) to complete the entire process.

Also, there is a monetary component involved too, so to speak, as getting your artwork copyrighted typically isn’t free in most countries.

Copyrighting Costs

money in hand

As we hinted at in the paragraph above, copyrighting your art does come with certain expenses in most countries.

If you are living in the US, the good news is that the cost of filing a copyright request for a work of art stands at $55. (In case you’re doing this through the Library of Congress Copyright Office.)

If you have only one piece of art you want to copyright, the fees are even lower – $35.

So, even though there is a monetary component to protecting your art, so to speak, the costs of filing for copyright protection are pretty low, so you needn’t worry too much about them, even if you’re low on money. (Of course, in the US, $55 is not that much considering the standard of living, but the costs may be steeper in the rest of the world.)

So, the real annoying part about copyrighting your artwork has to wait for those seven months or so for your request to be reviewed.

(For the record, this waiting time can also be shorter or longer, as the seven months we mentioned is only the median period that’s been calculated as the average from a large number of requests.)

Download Prevention

Let’s say you have a website where you post; you can find anyone interested in it can take a look and maybe buy it using the checkout option.

Since you will have to post a photo of your artwork on the website, the danger you’re facing is that someone will download it and then resize it in Photoshop or some similar program fairly easily.

To prevent this, you can get a special plugin for your website to prevent anyone who opens the image on your website from downloading it. Mostoad option will not even be there.

On the other side, depending on what sort of website builder you’re using, you can also check the ‘prevent download’ option and you’re good to go.

Whichever option you choose, preventing downloads can be a great way to dissuade most Internet users from illegally downloading your art, as most of them won’t be interested to put in a great effort to get the necessary software and know-how to do be able to do this.

Use Low-Quality Images

… but make sure that the images you upload to your online portfolio aren’t so low-res and of such low quality that they are unrecognizable.

The thing is, while it may be tempting to upload high-quality images to your online profile to market your art in the best possible way, so to speak, you’ll also be increasing the likelihood of someone downloading them illegally.

For someone willing to steal your artistic and intellectual property, downloading a high-quality image that’s not as good as the original, but still pretty good can be more than enough to either use it or redistribute it for material or some other gain.

Therefore, to prevent this, make sure to use a version of your digital art that’s not as high-resolution and high-detail as the original, but not so bad that a potential buyer cannot discern what this art would look like on their wall, for example.

A word of warning before you create a low-res version of your art:

Make sure to always save a couple of copies of the original art first, because if you don’t – converting a digital image that was already downscaled to a lower resolution will result in the loss of quality once you turn it back to the resolution you intend to sell it in.

Add Watermarks & Symbols

watermark symbol

One of the most common ways of preventing intellectual and artistic property theft online would be to include some watermarks on your digital piece of art.

Doing this is a fairly simple process, so you don’t have to be a copyright expert to pull it off. At the same time, the very fact that you’ve included one of these symbols on your art will likely deter most would-be thieves from downloading your image, because they would then need to edit it painstakingly to make it look like the original.

Another useful way of protecting your art would be to add special symbols that play roughly the same role as the watermarks.

The difference between this approach and the watermarking approach would be that you don’t add these symbols directly on the image, but in the description or even in tags on a social media post.

The symbol you want to use for this purpose would be © – a ‘C’ in a circle (keyboard code – Alt + 0169), which signifies that a piece of art or some other intellectual property that has one of these Cs in its name, is protected by copyright law.

This, again, can be a great immediately discourage a large puff of the people who may be interested in stealing or otherwise misusing and illegally distributing your artwork.

Keeping Digital Records

Keeping Digital Records

… can be a great idea when taking care of a scenario when someone steals your artwork.

Although the best way to deal with such theft is to try to prevent it, what you’ll have to do in case it does happen is somehow prove to the authorities that the art in question is indeed yours.

To do this, having extensive online and offline proofs and records of your ownership of the work can be crucial in proving to the investigators that the work of art that was stolen from you was made by you.

So, as a step to prevent abuse and copyright infringement, it may be a good idea to create detailed records of the time you uploaded your artwork online and of the online and offline places where this piece of artwork was displayed or offered on sale.

Final Words

All in all, as you can see, taking steps to copyright your artwork is a layered process that you have to take care of yourself. Optimally, it would help if you looked to employ all of the techniques and steps to successfully protect your artwork from illegal distribution and other forms of theft and misuse, so you can increase the level of security to the maximum.

We hope you found this article on how to copyright artwork informative and we wish you plenty of success in your online and offline artwork sales.

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