How to use Your Copyright: A Guide for Artists

If you are a thriving young artist looking to benefit financially off your artistic skills, proceed with care because the path to commercial exploitation can be foiled by the perilous nature of copyright law. Ok this is a slight exaggeration, but it is undoubtedly important to consider the options that you can take to commercialise your artistic skill.

To ensure that both your artistic integrity and financial assets are protected, LawPath can connect you with highly qualified copyright lawyers for free.

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Copyright in your artwork is different from the artwork itself. The copyright in a piece of art gives you the exclusive right to do certain things with with the art, including the right to reproduce, distribute or publicise the artwork.

For example, when you buy a painting, you buy the physical object, that is the painting and not the copyright. The copyright remains with the original creator. You will have no right to reproduce or distribute the artwork without the express permission of the creator.

The most common way for artists to make money off their creativity is simply through selling their art to buyers. In doing this you don’t give away your copyright in the original artwork and continue to have the benefit of reproducing your work in anyway you see fit.

Another method to commercialise your art is through selling the copyright in that art. The contract for sale of copyright is known as an assignment of copyright. This assignment must be in writing and must be signed by the person looking to sell their copyright.

When you sell your copyright you lose the right to reproduction and also lose the right to profit financially off your artwork. However, you will continue to have non-financial rights in your artwork these are known as moral rights. There are 3 types of moral rights:

  • The right to integrity: Essentially, this ensures that your work is not subject to derogatory treatment and protect your integrity in the work;
  • The right to attribution: This is the right that the owner has to be named and identified as the author of the work; and
  • The right against false attribution: This is the right to ensure that no one else can successfully claim authorship of your work.

Another option available is licensing the use of your art. License agreements are contractual agreements that allow you and another party to determine how your art will be used. Under a licensing agreement you will have greater control over how your copyright is assigned. For example, you may assign to the economic right to reproduce and distribute your work but could limit the right to have your work displayed in public.

You will be able to receive payments from other’s use of your work, in the form of royalties. Essentially, this can allow you to receive profit from your artwork without undergoing the hassle of the ground work associated with production costs. Some common types of licensing arrangements exist between:

  • artists and clothing companies; and
  • artists and advertising companies.

To find out more about licensing and assigning intellectual property check out our guide.

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Even if another party offers a considerable sum of money for your copyright you should proceed with care when selling off your copyright. If you sell your copyright rather than licence it there will be no other avenues for commercial exploitation.

If your produce killer artworks used on album covers and sell these to bands and sell the copyright in the work then you will be limiting your prospects of merchandising these artworks further down the track. This occurs because the band would enjoy the entirety of the rights over that artwork.

Think carefully before giving away your copyright and understand that copyright law is arguably the most fraught form of IP law. It is essential to get legal advice on how to protect your copyright. If you would like to know more about how copyright affects you contact LawPath and we can connect you to a practicing IP attorney and tailor advice specific to your needs.

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