Do I need to copyright my work? - Part 2
May 28, 2009
Can I copyright my work? In Part 1, I stated, "if you created the work, you own the copyright - automatically." But a more basic question is whether your work can be copyrighted at all.
I have been quite surprised at how far out of date the Copyright Office seems to be about what is a copyright-able artwork. My experience is that they have very narrow definitions of copyright for art or craft objects.
Original Enough for a Copyright? Years ago I submitted one of my chairs to register my copyright. The filled-in form and check were sent in by mail. A few weeks later my application was rejected. My chair made of recycled tin cans was not considered "original."
No matter, I don't think that anyone could copy my work even if they wanted to. I've been working with tin cans for 21 years....my repertoire of skills and techniques has evolved over the years.
What does matter? This is exactly the point that I want to make to all the artists and makers out there in the world of creativity. You need to keep developing your unique repertoire of skills, design, and aesthetics so that no one can copy your work. Their "copies" will be poor copies at best. Keep moving on.
One aspect of making your work difficult to copy is to fabricate your own designs, from beginning to end, from the concept through the fabrication. If you are worried about someone copying your work, resist the impulse to purchase pre-fabricated materials. If you buy the amazingly beautiful pattern sheets from David H. Fell and Company, so can other people. The same thing goes with the textures, patterns, and templates available for PMC from Cool Tools These are just two examples. Many companies sell these types of pre-fabricated items in all media for purchase and assembly. While these are all wonderful tools and quick design solutions, they are not unique and your work can easily be copied by another maker.
Scrapbooking would be another example. There are tons of beautiful borders, stickers, papers, decals, scissors, collage books, etc. to make beautiful objects, but they aren't sufficiently unique or original if you use purchased materials. If you want to consider your artwork as original, it would be wise to steer clear of any purchased items and create your own images.
I am not dismissing the beauty of the many products offered for crafters. Many of the options available to makers such as bezel wire, textures, pattern sheets, findings, papers, and more are intoxicating, attractive, and free of copyright license fees, but they aren't your designs. Anyone can use these designs and patterns. The same goes with paint, glaze, stain, fabric, thread, wool, or any purchased designs or patterns in any media. Develop your own materials, techniques, and skills.
If you think this is an obscure issue, it is not. A few years ago I was teaching a professional development workshop and was asked by a maker how he could protect his jewelry design when he was using the PMC (Precious Metal Clay) pattern sheets. It did not occur to him that the idea of protecting the copyright of his work was a moot point when he was creating a texture from a purchased silicone texture tool that anyone can buy.
Artists and makers who have developed a reputation for their work as unique and special have developed their own techniques, methodology, designs, aesthetics, and more. Applying to register your copyright may be appropriate in some cases, but even if accepted, it is not the panacea that many people are led to believe. Personally, I have a lot more faith in artists and makers who constantly evolve and improve their work.
This post was updated on January 2022