An Overview on Copyright Issues for Artists

Copyright changes constantly with new technology introduced.  What are the rights of artists, designers, painters, illustrators, and photographers?   What is covered under the visual arts copyright?  It applies to fixed art and design:  brochures, illustrations, posters, sketches, cartoons, drawings, photographs, digital images, and websites.

The overview of the issues facing artists and copyright make it necessary for artists to understand their own rights as well as the copyrights of others.

Copyright makes an artist’s work their property.  The work is original and the artist can do anything he or she wants with it.  It can be sold to a client.  The artist can make copies of it and sell the copies.  No one else can copy the work without infringement.

The artist can grant a license to someone who wants to use the images.  The license is an agreement that allows the licensee to use the image for a specified time, in what matter, how and what will be paid for the work.

It is essential for artists to realize that if someone commissions them to create artwork, the artwork belongs to the person who commissioned them.  The same fact is true for those employed and create for the company.   The work belongs to the company.  This is known as “works for hire.”

If an artist transfers his copyright, it will revert to the artist or heirs after 35 years.   When an artist transfers copyright to another person, several issues should be considered and written up for future protection.

*Copyrights transferred – Will all of the rights transferred or the right to first publication?

*Use of the copyright – Will the work be used only for one product or  used for other products?

*Licensing – Will the publisher be allowed to license the works to others?  Who will profit from the license?

*Infringement – Will the artist be able to sell other projects like the one he transferred without copyright infringement?

*Payment – How will payment be made (royalties based on sales or a lump sum)?

*Royalties – How will the royalties be decided?  Per item sold or a percentage of gross sales.

*Future of the transfer – Is the transfer long term?  What happens to the transfer if the publisher goes out of business?  Does it come back to you or is it in the hands of others?

*Indemnified – Is the artist protected from third party lawsuits?

*Copyright infringement – if an artist uses any picture or image (static) that is all ready copyrighted, the artist’s work can be sued for copyright infringement.

This overview is just a small part of the issues facing artists.  There are other issues that are relevant to each art specialty.