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All artists should be aware of copyright – that is, the exclusive rights that you, as the creator of your art, are granted from the moment your artwork is created.
Because you are the copyright owner of your original artwork, you have the sole right to distribute your art and make reproductions of it. No one else can do this without your consent. If they do, it is illegal and you can take legal action.
Technically, the moment you create your artwork, it is copyrighted. While it might be helpful to draw or paint the copyright symbol © onto your art (followed by the year and your name), this symbol is no longer necessary to protect your copyright. It’s more of a visual reminder to let others know that your art is copyrighted.
However, if you should ever take someone to court because they infringed upon your copyright, the only way to get the utmost in legal protection is to register your copyright with the US Copyright Office. Ideally you should do this immediately after the artwork is finished.
If the artwork is registered with the US Copyright Office, offenders can be held liable for up to $30,000 in statutory damages or even $150,000 if you can prove that they already knew your art was copyrighted but reproduced it anyway.
Registering your copyright is easy. You can fill out the form entirely online at the website of the US Copyright Office, pay the fee, and upload images of your art. Once processing is complete, they will snail mail you a certificate of registration. Even though that may take a few months, your copyright is officially registered from the date you filled out the form, made the payment and uploaded your art.
The cost to register your art is $35, but if you register your artwork as a “series”, you can register as many works of art as you want (as long as they were created in the same year) for one single fee of $35. For instance, if you created 12 landscape paintings in 2010, you can register all 12 landscapes under the same claim for a single $35 fee. This is a great way to save money on registration fees.
In short, it’s always a wise idea to protect your copyright by registering your art with the US Copyright Office. If and when your art becomes wildly popular, you may need that legal protection if anyone infringes upon your copyright.
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