How to copyright your art
Art has been part of human culture for many thousands of years. Drawings, paintings, sculptures,designs and crafts have constituted the more traditional artistic expressions of humankind, but in modern times we also have photographs, art installations, digital illustrations and animations. For more information on registering copyright on photographs and digital art please also read how to copyright images.
Copyright ownership of an artwork allows the owner to sell, display and reproduce an artwork. Protecting copyright on your art is essential and it is important for an artist to educate themselves on copyright law, on copyright ownership rights and on how to manage and protect those rights.
Does the artist always own the copyright of their artwork?
Copyright nearly always rests with the artist, regardless of who owns the artwork. For example if an artist sells a painting to someone, the copyright ownership of the painting will still belong to the artist, not to the purchaser. The ownership of the painting and the copyright ownership of the painting are two separate things legally and commercially. This means that even though the purchaser owns that painting, they cannot reproduce it, copy it or make a derivative work from it.
When does an artist not automatically own the copyright of their artwork?
Copyright ownership of an artwork created during employment will almost always be owned by that company/employer. Also, a commissioned artwork will usually be owned by the company who commissioned the piece and not the artist.
A gallery will usually have the right to reproduce the work of an artist in promotional literature, but it cannot use the reproduced image for its own commercial gain (unless otherwise agreed by contract).
Can an artist sell their copyright?
Yes an artist can sell their copyright ownership outright to another legal entity. The sale agreement should be in a written format so that the new copyright owner has a legal document to prove the copyright ownership purchase/transfer. The sale agreement can also include secondary rights for the artist so he/she may continue to get royalties from future sales of the image.
Can an artist sell reproduction rights but still retain copyright ownership?
Yes, the copyright owner can sell the reproduction rights of an artwork for a specific project, for example the use of their painting in a calender. It is important to have the details written a clear and legal agreement.
It is always advisable to use the services of a copyright solicitor when agreeing to sell copyright ownership or reproduction rights an any artwork.
The information on this page is not a complete guide but should be regarded as a basic overview to enhance your understanding of copyright. This is not legal advice and should not be considered as such. Some information may not be applicable in certain situations.