Many artists are concerned about protecting their work from copycats and copyright or trademark infringement. It is certainly understandable. All of us invest a great deal of time, energy, and money in making our work.
In general, you need to fill out the copyright application, include appropriate documentation, and pay the required fees. Copyright may be for individual work or a related series of work.
As an additional resource, Nolo Press offers multiple pages of do-it-yourself copyright information on their website for free.
Two questions that people often ask me. Here are the questions and the answers copied directly from the U.S. Copyright Office page of frequently asked questions.
When is my work protected?
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.
These answers bring us directly to several critical issues:
First, it is not necessary to apply for copyright immediately to be protected. You can apply ("register" your copyright) at a later time.
Second, what you have created may not be copyrightable. To register (or to be granted) a Copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office you are going to have to prove that your idea is "original" to the anonymous reviewers sitting behind desks at the Copyright Office. This can be a challenge.
I have been turned down for copyright on some of my work. Using found objects of any kind from product packaging, to twigs and seeds, puts you in a kind of gray area by the narrow perspective of the U.S. Copyright Office. The same goes with trying to copyright functional items such as a necklace or a chair. You need to prove that your design for a necklace or chair, as an example, is a truly unique design.
So, ultimately, is it worth it? This is the topic of discussion for the next post.
This post was updated on January 13, 2022.