U.S. Art Law
Protect What You Create!
(How to safequard your artwork from thieves, pirates and other unscrupulous industry players)
My name is AttorneyScott and I practice in Los Angeles, California, USA.
YTWWN has been kind enough to allow me to post on the legal system in the United States and how it applies to artists and their work.
My firm specializes in representing artists and companies in resolving the disputes that arise in the creative industries. Artists are often unaware of what their rights are under the law and face obstacles in enforcing their rights when someone infringes their work.
One of the most common problems we encounter is the theft of graphic artworks. Here’s a common scenario:
Scenario #1: An up and coming, artist-driven brand provides a line sheet showcasing its new designs to a potential buyer. The buyer passes on purchasing goods from this company, instead opting to simply steal the art and reproduce it as part of its own line that the original artist finds later finds for sale.
This happens far too often in the industry because artists are intimidated by the larger companies and think it will be too expensive and too much of a hassle to go after the infringer. However, protecting your art isn’t as difficult or expensive as you may think, and stopping someone else from exploiting your creative expression for their own profit is a cause worth pursuing. This week we will briefly discuss registration in the United States. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comments or contact me directly. You can also check out my firm’s website at www.donigerlawfirm.com.
1. Register Your Work
Filing a copyright registration for your work is the first step in protecting your rights as an artist. In the United States, once you have created something that is tangible (such as drawing a picture, taking a photograph or sculpting a statute), you automatically have what is known as “common law” copyright protection in that work. This means that if you can prove you published that work by distributing it to others, and someone copied it, you can recover damages from this copier.
However, with “common law” protection, you are only allowed to recover what are known as actual damages (the money the copier made off of the copies and any money lost by you as a result of the copying). Further, you will still have to file for a registration before you can file a lawsuit against the infringer, but will not get the benefits of the registration in terms of damages.
If you do register your work with the Copyright Office, and it is copied by someone after the registration, you can recover increased damages from the infringer, including your attorneys’ fees. The Copyright Office does this to motivate people to file their registrations and maintain a clear record of who is creating what.
Filing a copyright registration is not complicated, and carries a relatively nominal fee. The protection you receive is more than worth the amount – it will be difficult for someone to tell you that they created a piece of art first if you have a registration. It will also give you peace of mind knowing that there is a public record of your creation of a piece of art, especially if you are distributing it to multiple parties in search of buyers, investors or collaborators. The bottom line is if you register it now, you will have less worries in the future. It’s a good move.
[DISCLAIMER - The above is for informational purposes only and does not create an attorney-client or other relationship between the author and the reader. In reading this blog, you agree that the information on this blog does not constitute legal or other professional advice and that no attorney-client relationship exists. The information herein may not be complete or accurate. Obviously, do not consider a blog post, even one written by me, as a substitute for obtaining legal advice.] All Rights Reserved.