For a person to own the copyright of a painting, he must complete a painting on his own or purchase the copyright of an existing painting. In many cases, painters need do nothing more other than complete paintings by their own hands to own sufficient copyrights to the work. Those who are concerned about having official documentation of this copyright can take further steps in order to secure such documentation. Each country has slightly different rules for documenting the copyright of a painting, but such rules are often quite simple. In some cases a person must simply provide copies or reproductions of the painting and personal identification material in order to copyright a painting with the government.
This is the case for the United States. In order to copyright a painting, one should refer to the instructions set forth in a document titled Circular 40A, which details how to copyright a painting within America, as well as how to copyright various other pieces of creative intellectual property. When submitting information to copyright a painting, one must include copies of the painting, which can mean including high-quality photographs that capture the complete painting.
In many cases, it is not necessary to copyright a painting, but it may be necessary if the painting gains a great deal of attention, becomes part of an advertising campaign, or is used in any other sort of promotional material likely to gain notice. When a painter sells her work, it may be necessary for her to discuss the copyright of the work with the party purchasing the art. Some artists retain the copyrights to their work even after selling it. This means that a painter may sell an original painting but use high quality photographs or scans of the painting as part of personal promotion materials such as website portfolios and circulars. It also means that she may profit from allowing other parties to use photographic copies of her work.
In the process of gaining the copyright for a painting or any other piece of work, it is important to consider who will own that copyright after the artist passes away. In some cases, the copyright of a painting will be passed on to a loved one. In other cases, copyrights of numerous pieces of artwork will be looked after by an organization dedicated to overseeing and protecting the artist's works.