(Before reading this article you should know that I am not qualified to give legal advice. I’m just telling you what I do.)
I expect that am just like most of you, I have never seriously considered copyrighting my artwork. But I am trying to get my artwork licensed, and the licensing industry is one of the fields where theft of artwork is not uncommon. I was dreading the process. I set aside a whole day to research the subject.
The first thing I found out is that, yes, my work is automatically copyrighted without registering it. However, there are no “teeth” to that automatic copyright. If someone decides to steal the work I have very little recourse because it is difficult to prove that it is mine and, without a registered copyright, I do not have the right to collect reimbursement for my legal fees.
I eventually found my way to www.copyright.gov where there is more information than any sane person wants to read or has the time to read. Besides, after spending a considerable amount of time trying to make sense of it all, it still had me confused.
Next step: I called the copyright office, 202-707-3000, expecting to be on hold for hours. Surprisingly, after only a few minutes a very pleasant and helpful person came on the line. I found out that all of my artwork could be included in one copyright registration and that I could complete the entire process online using the eCO. See the large letter “e” with the blue circles around it? That’s the link to the electronic filing site.
I did have a very small amount of trouble getting registered to use the site because it requires a very strong and complicated password.
Back to my phone call the news kept getting better. The very nice representative told me that I could group my artwork and register the group all together. The group could be as large as I wanted it to be. I could, for example, copyright all of my artwork for the year, or the last 10 years, in one filing. All I had to do was include pictures of every piece. The hardest part was taking the digital versions of my artwork and reducing the file sizes so that they could be uploaded as one group.
Last, I was told that the filing fee was $35 – for all the artwork included in the registration.
All of this changes the idea of copyrighting my artwork from a subject I avoided thinking about, to an easy job that is high on my to-do list. Did I fill out the form correctly? I have no idea. Actually, I’m fairly certain that I did not. But even if I made mistakes on the form, the artwork is still copyrighted. It may be a year down the road that someone from the copyright office may contact me to clarify the mess I made of the form. At that time we’ll work out all the details and I will finally receive the paperwork back. Which doesn’t matter a whole lot because, regardless of the correctness of the paperwork, the art is legally considered copyrighted as soon as it is filed.
WhooHoo! It’s done!