In this digital age, writers, designers and illustrators are able to publish their work online for an instant global audience. Although this can be extremely beneficial for exposure, it can also make it far easier for your work to be copied and reused without your knowledge or consent. Just look at indie artist Tuesday Bassen and her recent scrap with worldwide retailer Zara.
Opinion in the arts community seems to be divided as to whether or not copyrighting work is important, and knowing both sides of the argument can help you decide whether or not you want to take the time to do it.
So, what is copyright and how does it work?
According to the UK Government, copyright protection is whenever a piece of work is created by an individual or company. Your work will qualify for copyright if it is original, and has obvious signs of skill and labour invested into it. Although you cannot copyright an idea, work which expresses an idea is more than eligible.
Why do I need it?
Many artists like to be safe in the knowledge that if someone used their artwork, they are able to put an immediate stop to it. Marking work with a copyright symbol, aka ©, with your name and the year of creation lets others know that you do not give permission for your work to be taken, used or built upon in any circumstance and is an immediate deterrent. This in itself should be reason enough to get your work protected, so why do so many artists choose not to?
In the eyes of the law, you have copyright as soon as you create the work and all sketches, drafts or research can serve as evidence to back you up if you need it. Paying for the copyright is simply for peace of mind.
Freelance illustrator and designer Dan Olivier-Argyle says:
“Copyright buys you marginally better protection if you register your images, but it's not necessary. The artist is always the first owner of copyright, even if they don't declare it with a copyright symbol or signature.”
The question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you think theft or infringement is likely. In the overall scheme of things, is that one picture worth going to court over or is it just one small part of a much larger portfolio?
How to protect your work:
Make sure your work is correctly marked
Let people know that your work is protected by copyright by using the symbol, or by adding a notice stating that you have protection. This is not completely necessary, but adding it can help make sure that anyone who views your work is clear.
Keep or register all your sketches and rough copies
Your drafts will be considered as ‘supporting evidence’ in the event that you need to take legal action against anyone. This is can be either an evolution of ideas (progression of work, like sketches) or footprints/watermarking (deliberate mistakes or little additions into the work which identify it).
Register your work
Registering your work is relatively simple and can be done online or by post. If you have a smaller file, registering online is a good option, and will only require you to fill in an online form and attach the works before submitting. For larger documents, such as manuscripts or portfolios of work, submitting by post along with a registration form will be easier.
Visit the UK Government website which has plenty of information on how to do this.
Make sure all co-authors agree
If you have created work with one or more individuals, make sure you’re all in agreement who owns which of the rights and make sure you’re all on the same page.
Is there an alternative?
A Creative Commons license can prevent large companies from taking your work and making money from it, but will still allow other artists use, as long as they conform to your wishes. You can also encourage others to share your work online, but make sure that they credit you as the original artists when they do. You’ll have the option to apply a button, link or the full license of your terms on your work so that it is clear and visible.
Creative Commons provide free, easy-to-use licenses which you can apply to your work under your own specified conditions of usage. You will be able to alter your copyright, selecting from a number of licenses depending on your needs, for example non-commercial, redistribution, remix, tweak etc. Find out more on the Creative Commons website and see if this is a better option for you.
Got any tips or want to share your experiences with copyright or copyright infringement? Share them below and help others decide whether it’s right for them!