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How Do I Copyright Artwork?

Intellectual and artistic work may be copyrighted in batches with the Library of Congress.
In the United States, the 1976 Copyright Act provides that a picture is protected by copyright from the moment it is created in a fixed medium, such as a print, slide, or computer file.
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  • Written By: Lindsey Rivas
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2014
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From the moment you produce your artwork in a tangible form, you own the copyrights to it automatically, unless it was created for an employer. No one can duplicate or sell your work without your consent while it is under copyright protection. You can copyright artwork simply by putting the copyright symbol (©), the year, and your name on your artwork. You might also consider registering your artwork with a copyright office for added benefits. To copyright artwork through a copyright office, you typically will need to fill out an application form, submit copies of your artwork, and pay a fee, but the specific process can vary from country to country.

Check online or with your local government to find out the name of the copyright office where you live, such as the United States Library of Congress Copyright Office if you live in the US or the UK Copyright Service if you live in the United Kingdom. The application typically can be obtained online from the copyright office's website or in person at the office's physical location. You might be able to copyright artwork online instead of filling out a paper application, but you typically will still need to submit hard copies of your artwork to the copyright office.

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The copyright office typically will request that you send in the best edition of your artwork when you file for copyright registration. If your artwork is three-dimensional, such as a sculpture, then you generally will need to submit photos and any written material related to the artwork. You should not expect the copies or photos of your artwork to be returned to you.

You can pay the required fee by mailing in the payment with your application, or in some cases, the copyright office might allow you to pay the fee online with a credit card. A fee is typically charged each time you copyright artwork, so it might be better to register multiple pieces of artwork at the same time by registering them as a collection instead of individual pieces. Keep in mind that the copyright office might have specific rules regarding what qualifies as an artwork collection.

Your copyright registration usually becomes effective once the copyright office receives your application, artwork copies, and fee. You might not receive your copyright registration certificate for six months or more after you apply, however. You do not need to wait until you receive your confirmation certificate to begin using the copyright symbol or selling your artwork.

When you copyright artwork, it will be protected by copyrights from the moment it is a tangible work until a specific number of years after your death — or after the death of the last surviving artist if your artwork was a joint endeavor with one or more other people. In most countries, a copyright lasts at least 50 years after the artist's death; in many countries, it lasts 70 years after the artist's death. In some countries, the artist's family or estate might be able to apply to extend copyrights beyond the normal time frame.

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