Do I Need a Copyright?

by Chris Jackson

Copyrights protect your creative property and fall into five basic categories: (1) reproduction rights (2) derivative rights, the right to create adaptations of an original work (3) distribution rights, the right to sell a work (4) display rights, and (5) performance rights. For designers and illustrators, reproduction and derivative rights are the most important copyright rights.

When you create a work you automatically own the copyright to that work for your lifetime, plus 50 years. You don't have to publish the work or register it to own the copyright. You can write "cease and desist" letters telling someone to stop using your copyrighted work even if the work has not been registered. You can file for a copyright at any time, but you cannot legally file an infringement of copyright action unless you have registered the work in question.

Because you can't use the courts to protect your work unless it is registered, it's a very good idea to register all the work you will make public. It's also important to register the work in a timely manner. If you register your work within three months of making it public, you will be entitled to recover attorney's fees and statutory damages. But, if you file your registration after the initial three-month period, you will only be entitled to damages you can prove.

You don't have to register every piece you create, but you should file copyright registration on any piece that will be seen by a large number of people or one that's used frequently. Always put a copyright notice on your work. Every design, every disk and every digital file needs a copyright notice: "© Your Name Here 2010." If it's marked with a copyright, no one can claim innocent infringement.

Copyright Registration

Artwork is registered on copyright Form VA, available from the U.S. Copyright Office by calling the Copyright Forms number at (202) 707-9100 or by visiting

• Cost is about $35 to $45 to register each work you've created.

• The form comes with instructions and you can make as many copies of the form as you need. You can probably fill it out without a lawyer's help.

• Remember to keep copies of everything you use to file your registration.

• It usually takes 16 weeks to receive the copyright registration with your registration number.

Protecting Your Copyrighted Images
Designers and illustrators can have a hard time protecting their work in a digital world. Online images are so easy to click and save and can be used without your permission by the uneducated or dishonest. Some people even consider everything on the internet to be public property. Here are some ways to protect your work in the electronic environment.

• Be sure to put your copyright notice (© 2008 Your Name Here) in small type on every single photo or illustration you post online. Having a copyright notice on your home page is not enough.

• Make images harder to "borrow" by reducing the image size for screen viewing. Lower the image resolution to 72 dpi and size it to be 400 pixels or smaller on the longest side. Sizing the images smaller makes them less suitable to print, but still provides an adequate screen image for viewing.

• Use electronic watermarking to protect your images and provide copyright information. Some programs allow you to track watermarked images across the web, others let you place a link from your image to your personal profile listing. These watermarks contain data that can be detected by PhotoShop and will notify viewers that your work is copyright protected and direct potential clients to an online directory of information about you.

• If you place your work on the web, most people will assume that they can link to it and this is generally not considered a copyright violation. You may want to post a notice on your home page asking others to get your permission before linking to your page.

• Register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office within three months of making it accessible to the public.