How to Protect Your Artwork Online

As an artist or photographer, you want your work to be seen. You may also be building a career and a business around your work. In pursuit of these goals, it is likely that you utilize some form of online distribution platform in order to get your work out there and garner clientele.

Unfortunately, visibility has its downside. The work you share online is vulnerable to copying and reproduction on various other mediums and platforms. This means that protecting your work may be as important as sharing it in the first place.

The good news: there are strategies to protect your work from potential infringers.

 

Why Registration Matters

The moment you take a photo, you become the owner of its copyright. This copyright gives you the exclusive privilege to control the use, production, and modification of your work. So, it can be disheartening to discover that your work is being used online without your permission.

In some instances, you can reach out to the infringing party and simply ask them to take it down. While this may stop them from using your work, it won’t provide you with compensation for any profit losses sustained from an infringer making your work available or using it for little-to-no cost.

That’s why it is generally good business practice to register all works with the Copyright Office. Registering a copyright places your work in a public database that allows interested parties to search for the author of a work they are interested in licensing or using.

 

Having a registered copyright provides many benefits.

A registered copyright enables you to pursue statutory damages, which can range from $750 to $150,000. Without a registered copyright, you may only be able to recover actual damages such as lost profits and a licensing fee. Because lost profits are often hard to calculate, courts may instead award an estimated licensing fee. Unregistered copyrights are often costlier to litigate than the damages that would be awarded to you.

An additional benefit of registering a copyright is the presumption that a copyright registration verifies you as being the original author of the work. This is beneficial to have when your work is closely related to your brand or your livelihood.

These remedies could help cover any losses incurred from your work being used online without your permission.  

 

The Copyright Office offers three options for registration of images:

  1. Single image

  2. Collection of unpublished images

  3. Group of published images

The group registration option gives you the chance to register several works at a time, making the process of registration easier and less costly. When registering multiple works online, you must distinguish between unpublished and published works, as they can’t be registered together.

The Copyright Office has a helpful FAQs pages that may answer many of your questions.

You can register your work online here.

 

Then, store your copyright documents along with your artwork on Artwork Archive, so you always have your work protected.

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Thanks to guest contributors at the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts of Massachusetts, a program of the Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston.

*Note: this information only applies to copyrights in the United States.