Artists and Copyrights: The Article

The article below appears in the January 2014 issue of the NMPCA Slip Trail newsletter, reprinted with permission from Corrales Society of Artists. Realizing that this is possibly a controversial issue, we invite your thoughtful comments to further the discussion here on this blog post. Read down and then post your comments at the bottom.

As artists, we’ve all been faced with the individual that diminishes the effort that it takes to create art or believes that they can duplicate or reproduce our work. Some of us have overheard visitors at our booth say, “I could do that.” Or, someone will take pictures of your work for refer-ence. (Editor’s note: I remember my first big juried show in New Mexico; I had someone come into my booth and do both, in one felled swoop! She walked in the booth, pulled out her camera and took a picture of a difficult handmade paper piece and said, “I can do that, I just need a picture for “reference” and walked away before I could respond!)

According to an article on, “When a group of artists were asked how to respond to this type of com-ment (situation), there were just as many responses as art-ists polled. But, basically, they were grouped into two schools of thought.

“One group holds that no one can duplicate another per-sons’ work. They can take the same subject matter, transfer it to a canvas, using the same medium as the original creator, but because the two individuals are entirely different people, with different skill sets and experiences, no two outcomes will be exactly alike. There may be similarities but each stroke of the brush will have a different depth, strength and length; color will vary and, most importantly, the soul of the art cannot be replicated. This group of artists, how-ever, also acknowledges that there are professional craftsmen whose role is to duplicate masters’ works–counterfeiters whose skills and abilities can fool even the most seasoned museum curator. But, we are not usually referring to this level of skilled individual. This group also holds that imitation is a form of flattery and they turn their heads the other way. “The second school of thought, holds that it is copyright infringement, outright theft. The problem is how do you punish or stop the ‘thief,’ especially in this digital age? According to the copyright laws of the U.S., the moment you create anything visual—paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, etc., the work is automatically covered by copyright. While not required, you should get in the habit of putting the copyright symbol, your name and the year the art was produced somewhere on your art.” Many artists put a copyright symbol, their name and the year the work was created on the art work; however, by law, it isn’t necessary. The artist still owns the copyright, even without using the copyright symbol. If anyone copies your work and/or sells it with-out your written permission, you can take them to court and sue for damages; however, it is more difficult if you haven’t registered your copyright with the U.S. Library of Congress Copyright Office. The benefit of taking this additional step is that it creates a public record of the copyright, which may be required to prove infringement in court. What many artists do not realize is that they still hold the copyright to their work after it is sold. The buyer cannot make or sell copies of the art unless you’ve provided permission in writing. And, according to U.S. copyright laws, your family or legal heirs will continue to own the copyright to your work for 70 years after your death. Stay informed. For more information about copyright laws, visit or consult an attorney specializing in copyright laws.
Editors Note: Both and have great articles and tips, including product reviews, and resource links for budding and professional artists on their respective websites. Be sure to check these sites out for more information on copyrights and other valuable topics.

Art, Photography and Copyright Guidelines

The law states that, “Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.” This protection includes authorship of photographs. When a photo-graph has been published it cannot be copied except with the ex-press permission of the owner of the photograph. It is a violation of copyright law to prepare derivative works based upon the copy-righted work. It is also important to note that works do not have to bear the copyright symbol to be protected. “Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is created when it is fixed in a copy or photo record for the first time.” The copyright protection extends “from the moment of its creation, and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author’s life, plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death”… “for anonymous and pseudonymous works (unless the author’s identity is revealed in Copyright Office records), the duration of copy-right will be 75 years from publication or 100 years from creation, whichever is shorter.” Transfers of copyright are normally done through contract. An artist or photographer may sell his or her copyright in various forms, including first use, one-time use, limited use, or unrestricted use. It is then legal to use the work, but only under the terms of the contract. Here are the guidelines as most professional artists practice them: • DO NOT– copy someone else’s photograph to create a work of art. • DO NOT– copy a picture that has been printed in any form including book, magazine, etc. • DO NOT– copy a major part of a photograph (an animal, for instance) and place it in a different setting. This is a “grey” legal area, but it is still considered unethical by most professional artists. • OK – to copy your own photograph to create a work of art. • OK – to copy works that have exceeded the time limits for copyright protection. References: Copyright Basics Circular 1, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC. 1995;,, and

Read "Artists and Copyrights: The Article" Offline:

One Reply to “Artists and Copyrights: The Article”

  1. dancingmud

    There actually are a lot of complexities to this issue that I feel this article glosses over. It does not discuss the meaning of derivative works and how they have been valid art works. Nor, does it do justice to the idea that there is nothing new that hasn’t already been created. I have seen many people make work they felt was totally new inspiration only to find that it resembles somebody else’s work that they had not seen, or didn’t remember seeing. I have had people see my work and then come out with something similar or named similarly, but which I did not believe detracted from my work in the least. I would be interested to hear how other people feel about this issue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *