The official site for the Detroit Art & Business Institute and Andrea Rosenfeld, professional artist and business consultant to the creative community in metro Detroit and beyond.

Basic Copyright Information for Artists

*image from

*image from

Basic Copyright Information for Artists

Your work is online for all to see. Is it protected? Can you copyright it? Should you? If an image, is it online in lo-res format, hi res? Do you have a watermark attached? With all of the large companies supposedly “stealing” designs from online markets and small artists unable to stop them or prove that they’re actually a “unique” design, how you do protect your art?

In addition, there are always questions about copyrighting one’s work.  How can you use art or designs for your OWN website, social media or art?

Firstly, you cannot, cannot, CANNOT copy, exactly, another person’s artwork, jewelry design, sculpture + and call it your own.  It’s illegal and bad karma. If you are an artist and are inspired by another person’s design, you must change it enough so that a third party CLEARLY sees 6 or more differences in the pieces.

Also, when you grab an online image, you must reference the site and if the image was taken by the person owning the site, get their permission first.  If you feel that you’d like to copyright a work, here are some basic information and guidelines.  *and no, I didn’t make up the Elvis info.
You receive copyright protection automatically upon creation of your work. Registration of the artwork with the U.S. Copyright Office is not required to obtain copyright protection. Registration does make it easier if you find that someone has violated or infringed your rights.  As an artist, copyright gives you exclusive rights to copy and distribute your work. This means that others may not use your image or a derivative of your image without your permission.  As the creator of the work, you have the rights to your design and dictate where it may be displayed, copied and used. Unless you transfer this copyright ownership, you may continue this privilege for a lifetime and beyond.  Intellectual property is understood as the ownership that attaches to rights (such as reproduction rights) in creative work, like paintings and novels, as opposed to tangible things like cars or land.

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Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.


The visual arts category consists of pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including two- and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art. Examples of such works include photographs; original prints; art reproductions; cartographic works, such as maps, globes, and relief models; technical and mechanical drawings; and architectural drawings, plans, blueprints, or diagrams.

Copyright protects original “pictorial, graphic and sculptural works” which include two-and three- dimensional works of fine, graphic and applied art.  Examples include:

Artwork applied to clothing or useful articles


Drawings, painting, murals

Enamel works

Fabric, floor and wall-covering designs

Jewelry design



Original prints

Patterns for sewing




Sculpture and molds


Copyright protects an author’s specific expression in literary, artistic, or musical form. Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, system, method, device, name, or title.

Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:

• Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)

• Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents

• Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration

• Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)

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How is a copyright different from a patent or a trademark?
Copyright protects original works of authorship, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by the copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be. A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguishing them from those of others.

When is my work protected?
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

Can I copyright my website?
The original authorship appearing on a website may be protected by copyright. This includes writings, artwork, photographs, and other forms of authorship protected by copyright.

Can I copyright my domain name?
Copyright law does not protect domain names.

How do I protect my sighting of Elvis?
Copyright law does not protect sightings. However, copyright law will protect your photo (or other depiction) of your sighting of Elvis. 

Do I have to send in my work? Do I get it back?
Two-Dimensional Works: If the piece is unpublished, send in once complete copy or identifying material.  No, you do not get it back.  Some categories of pictorial, graphic and sculptural works are exempt from the mandatory deposit requirement.  The following works are examples of exempt categories:

Scientific and technical drawings and models

Greeting cards, picture postcards and stationary

Three-dimensional sculptural works, except for globes, relief models

Works published only as a reproduction in or on jewelry, textiles and any useful article

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How much of someone else’s work can I use without getting permission?
Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work.

How much do I have to change in order to claim copyright in someone else’s work?
Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work.

Is it legal to download works from peer-to-peer networks and if not, what is the penalty for doing so?
Uploading or downloading works protected by copyright without the authority of the copyright owner is an infringement of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights of reproduction and/or distribution. * In recent usage, peer-to-peer has come to describe applications in which users can use the Internet to exchange files with each other directly or through a mediating server.

Where is the public domain?
The public domain is not a place. A work of authorship is in the “public domain” if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.

Copyright resources:

US Copyright Office:  and for Visual Art Copywriting:

U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Ave. S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000
(202) 707-3000 or 1-877-476-0778 (toll free)

Artists Rights Society (ARS) is the preeminent copyright, licensing, and monitoring organization for visual artists in the United States. Founded in 1987, ARS represents the intellectual property rights interests of over 50,000 visual artists and estates of visual artists from around the world (painters, sculptors, photographers, architects and others).

DACS (UK) was established 25 years ago by artists for artists. Among its founding artists were Eduardo Paolozzi, Susan Hiller and Elaine Kowalsky. DACS was set up to ensure that artists’ rights are respected and that these rights are recognised both financially and morally.

The Copyright Website intends to provide practical and relevant copyright information to a wide-ranging audience. Includes such topics as visual, audio, and digital arts, and news items.


Do you have copyright questions? Ask them below.

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