What to Consider Before Copyrighting Your Artwork
After completing a piece of artwork, you may want to ensure others cannot copy your hard work. An essential step is copyrighting your artwork. Copyright is a type of intellectual property that can protect your rights as the creator of an original piece of artwork. Different actions are available when someone does copy your art. This article outlines:
- artworks you can protect through copyright;
- your rights as a copyright owner;
- the process of copyrighting your artwork; and
- copyright infringement.
Art That Can Be Copyrighted
Under Australian copyright law, copyright registration is not necessary for artworks. Instead, copyright automatically protects your artistic works if they are:
- produced using your skills and effort;
- not copied from another artwork; and
- materialised or recorded in some form.
This means that copyright can automatically protect artwork from when you paint your idea on a canvas or record your art digitally.
Additionally, copyright can protect artwork across different mediums, including drawings, paintings, sculptures and other creative works. In Australia, copyright protection will generally last 70 years in addition to your life as the creator of the artwork. However, it is important to note that generally, copyright cannot protect:
- ideas for an artwork;
- a specific style of art; or
- any technique that you used in creating the artwork.
Your Legal Rights as a Copyright Owner
If you own the copyright to your artwork, you have the exclusive right to control the use and reproduction of your artwork. This means that other people require your permission to:
- reproduce your original artwork by photographing it or scanning it into digital form;
- publish or sell copies of your artwork in a print magazine; or
- communicate your artwork to the public through the internet.
If a person exhibits your original work in a gallery, they generally do not need your permission to do so. However, they will need to credit you as the creator of the artwork. This is because you have moral rights in addition to your exclusive rights that ensure you are:
- properly credited as the creator of your artwork;
- protected against false attribution of your artwork; and
- protected against any disrespectful treatment of your artwork which could tarnish your reputation as the creator.
Generally, a person will not infringe on your moral rights if you:
- consent to the action that would infringe upon your moral rights; or
- the infringement was reasonable in the circumstances.
If you create an artwork, you are usually the owner of the copyright on that work. This rule will likely apply if you are a freelancer creating different works. However, there are instances where copyright ownership can change, as summarised in the table below.
|You create artwork for a company as an employee of that company||Generally, the employer or the company owns the copyright to the artwork.|
|Someone commissions a piece of art||Artwork commissioned for a private purpose, like a portrait, generally means that the client who commissioned the artwork owns the copyright. However, you can discuss with the client before making the artwork to determine who retains copyright ownership. Artwork commissioned for a commercial purpose generally means that copyright ownership will remain with you as the creator.|
|You create an artwork for the Government||If you create artwork for the Government or the Government is the first to publish your work, the Government will be the copyright owner.|
How To Copyright Your Artwork
Under Australian copyright law, it is not a requirement to register artworks for copyright protection. Instead, artworks are automatically protected as soon as they are put into material form. If artwork is copyrighted, it will usually bear a copyright notice.
A copyright notice is generally placed at the bottom of an image and will look like ‘© [the year the material was made] [the name of the material’s creator].’
Whilst it is a good idea to place a copyright notice on your artwork, copyright can still protect original works without a copyright notice. However, a copyright notice is an easy and inexpensive way to warn others that your artwork is protected by copyright. Since there is no formal procedure for using a copyright notice, you can put a copyright notice on your work yourself.
Copyright infringement can occur in the instance where your artwork has been reproduced, published or communicated without your permission. This depends on whether:
- somebody has used all or a substantial part of your artwork; and
- if the person who copied your artwork did so innocently.
In cases where you suspect that someone has infringed on your copyright, it would be helpful to seek advice from a lawyer to determine what steps you should take. You might consider sending the alleged party a copyright infringement notice.
Copyright is a type of intellectual property that can prevent reproductions of your artwork without your permission. Generally, the person who created the artwork is the copyright owner, although this can change depending on the purpose of the artwork. You can protect your artwork by using a copyright notice and pursuing any infringements of your copyright. If you need help with copyrighting your artwork or further trade mark legal assistance, contact our experienced trade mark lawyers on 1300 657 423 or complete the form on this page.
Frequently Asked Questions
When you enter artwork into competitions, a condition of entry might detail a change in copyright ownership. Therefore, it is important to read the conditions carefully.
If you create an artwork derived from an existing work, you will likely need permission from the original copyright owner to avoid copyright infringement. For example, if you base your painting on a substantial or important part of someone’s original sketch, you will need permission from the copyright owner of the sketch.
Generally, copyright does not protect styles or techniques.