Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Artist's Toolbox: Copyright, Creative Commons and Trademarks

Tips and Tools: The Artist's Toolbox
(Image Source:

Copyright, Creative Commons, Trademark, Oh My!

Last week, after I finished participating in a panel discussion at SooVAC called the After School Specials, I had an artist come up to me and ask about copyright. She wanted to know how I protected my work and if she should watermark her images. Copyrights, trademarks, and other ways to protect intellectual property can get pretty confusing. Much like Dorothy trying to make her way back to Kansas, it is easy to get lost along the way! So here is a breakdown on ways to protect your work, with a few bits of advice and tips about how I do it.

©: Copyright

Keyboard shortcut: Copyright
For Mac: Option + G
Non-Mac: Alt+0169

Copyright protects works of authorship; this includes literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works: poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, architecture and your art. Copyright is great because gives you exclusive rights as the creator. It’s the government providing official documentation that you have created and own the artwork. If you take a peek into my blog’s archives you will find my post about copyright called, Using Protection: Five Steps to Copyrighting Your Art . I did a step by step breakdown on how I learned and successfully registered my artwork. Now, do I recommend copyrighting all of your works of art? No.

There are certain situations where you need to copyright your work but more often than not there are ways to protect yourself without needing to register every work which on average costs $35 if you register online. If you are working with other people who wish to use your image for printing, publishing or other uses its best to copyright. You still allow them access to use your copyright image but only for certain printed or published materials (which should be previously decided upon). I once dealt with this situation where the creator wanted to take my image and print posters, postcards, fliers and more with my image which I did not initially agree to. If you have a hunch someone will take your work and run, either back out or protect yourself with a copyright. Learn to write contracts to make sure the project and terms are agreed upon. Make sure you have registration number to the copyright of your work in the contract too.

While there are definitely grey areas where you will have to make the decision yourself whether or not to copyright, consider the consequences that could occur if you don’t copyright your art and images in these situations. Many photographers will watermark their work either across the entire image or small in the corner. For the most part, this is distracting when done on art (As shown on my work, “Ok, Who Invited the Bomb Pop?”). 

(c) Kate Renee 2011

Instead of plastering you name and a copyright symbol on every image you have, consider adjusting the image to help prevent online image theft. Resize the image to 72 pixels per inch. This means that if someone steals your image and tried to print or publish it, the size of the image will create a poor copy. Basically it’s hard to reproduce this image in a high enough quality to make some money off of it.

But did you know, you already own the copyright to your work whether or not you register it with the government. So go ahead and stick that © on if that makes you feel better. If you want to start the registration process or learn more about copyrights head on over to

The creative commons right allows people to use your images as long as they have your permission. Creative Commons license allows your artwork to be shared; people are allowed to use your images for free and without threat of copyright infringement. How does this benefit you? You get free publicity and promotion when people use your images but you are in control. If they fail to ask you permission, they are incorrectly using your work. However creative commons allows you to determine the size, quality and amount of your work to be available for others to use. It is also free to protect your work this way. When I took a workshop with Creative Capital back in 2010 we talked about these same issues. Creative Commons licenses can determine various modes of attribution, derivatives and distribution that you allow.

You can find out more information about having a creative commons license here: There is a great interactive way to decide which creative commons symbols to stick on your website and printed materials. It also gives you’re the html code to stick into your website! You can also download their logos here: I also included the variety of Creative Common licenses you can choose from to allow or discourage specific uses of your artwork. Pretty awesome for being free!

™: Trademark

Keyboard shortcut: Trademark Symbol 
For Mac: Option + 2
Non-Mac: Alt+0153

According to (USPTO) United States Patent and Trademark Office, a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. This does not protect your artwork. Trademarks are a bit more business or logo orientated. It protects brand names and logos for sold goods and services. Interested in trademarking something? Most people have to hire an attorney to assist them through the application process. Lot more complicated than getting a creative commons or copyright.

If you are watermarking or adding © or creative commons symbols to your artwork, avoid using the registration symbol ®. The registration symbol is related to trademarks. The registration symbol ® may only be used once you have completed registration for your trademark.

Still confused? Here is an example: If you invented a new type of kiln, a patent protects the invention of the kiln. The trademark would protect the brand name of your kiln. You would apply then for a copyright for the commercial you produce to market your new kiln. As an artist, if you made a new drawing, you could decide to protect it either on your own with changing the file size to a low DPI or watermarking it. You could also register it through the government for a copyright or use the creative commons license to allow people to properly use your images.

Kate Renee lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Kate graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in fine arts, art history, and a minor in design, and has worked with various galleries and museums in the Twin Cities including the Katherine E. Nash Gallery, Larson Art Gallery, American Swedish Institute and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. She designed currently manages the Solo Exhibition Program at Altered Esthetics.

Kate is building a national and international reputation with exhibitions throughout the United States. In 2011, Kate began a six week residency at Prairie Center for the Arts in Peoria, IL, where she focused on building a new body of work. Currently, she is a workshop teacher at Bloomington Theatre and Art Center where she teaches arts business workshops. She also is a marketing assistant for Local Artist Interviews.

You can see Kate’s work on her website or follow her artist development blog

No comments: