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Copyright for Artists FAQ

Answers to questions frequently asked by artists about copyright. The information given here is based on US copyright law and is given for guidance only; you're advised to consult a copyright lawyer on copyright issues.

What is Copyright?
Before you can worry about protecting your copyright, you need to understand exactly what this entails.

How Do You Copyright a Painting or an Idea?
What's involved in copyrighting a painting you've completed, and whether you can do the same with an idea you've had.

Copyright for Artists FAQ: Is a Copyright Symbol Essential?
Do you need to have a copyright symbol on a painting in order to protect your copyright?

Who Owns the Copyright to a Painting?
Owning a painting doesn't automatically mean you own copyright to it and may create prints from it.

Can You Make a Painting of a Photograph?
The copyright issues involved in making a painting from one photo, and how can you get around the problems.

If You Change 10 Percent of a Photo, Isn't It New?
It's a myth that if you change 10 per cent of an image when you make a painting that you're okay as far as copyright is concerned.

Doesn't Fair Use Cover Artists?
Aren't artists covered by the principle of fair use for everything they do?

Can You Make Paintings from Reference Photos?
What are the copyright implications of making a painting from reference photos?

Can You Use Photos of Famous Paintings in Your Art?
Don't just assume that because a painting is an old one that you can use a photo of it.

How Do You Get Permission to Use a Photo in a Painting?
If you want to use a copyrighted photograph, ask the copyright holder for permission first.

Can You Paint Movie Characters Such as Nemo?
Is it okay to paint characters from animation movies such as Nemo and Toy Story?

Can You Turn a Frame from a Film into a Painting?
Is it okay to paint a single frame from a film, or is it a copyright infringement?

What About Copyright with Collage?
What are the copyright issues regarding collage?

Copyright with Paintings From Old Masters and How-To Books
What are the copyright issues regarding copies of paintings by Old Masters, or ones made from how-to painting books?

Signing a Copy of Someone Else's Painting or Photo?
Should you sign a painting that's a copy of someone else's or not?

How Long Does Copyright Last?
How long do you have copyright to a painting?

What is 'in the Public Domain' and How Does it Apply to Copyright?
An explanation of what it means when something is regarded as being "in the public domain".

Who Owns Copyright on Commissioned Paintings?
What are the copyright issues regarding commissioned paintings? Do you, the artist, retain copyright, or does the person commissioning the painting have it?

Copyright When Selling a Painting
What happens to the copyright on a painting when you sell it, do you keep it or does the owner of the artwork get it?

Copyright and Work for Hire as an Artist
What are the copyright issues regarding work for hire?

Can You Copy a Fabric Design?
Is it okay to copy a fabric design or to paint your own version thereof, or are fabric designs copyrighted?

Signing Over Copyright on Your Art
Can you sign over your copyright to a painting to someone else, and why would you do this?

What If Someone Infringes Your Copyright?
What should you do if someone infringes your copyright? Is it worth pursuing?

What Does Copyright Start?
Find out exactly when your copyright on a painting comes into effect, and what you have to do.

Can You Make Prints from Other People's Paintings?
Find out whether it's okay in terms of copyright to make art prints from other people's paintings to sell or not.

Copyright Commons
Looking for a more relaxed solution to copyright? Take a look at the flexible copyright licenses for creative works that can be issued under Copyright Commons.

Australia Copyright Info
An outline of copyright law in Australia, from the Australian Copyright Council.

Copyright in the UK
An outline of copyright as it applies to art from the UK Intellectual Property Office. (Be sure to note what is meant by "original".)

Copyright in the USA
Answers to specific questions on copyright law in the USA, from the US Copyright Office.

Obtaining Copyright Permission
Struggling to find a copyright holder and get permission? This company may be able to help.

American Society of Portrait Artists: Using Other People's Photos
Mary Ann Fergus of the American Society of Portrait Artists addresses the issue of using other people's photos and creating derivatives, citing the Jeff Koons court case.

Copyright on Photo Explained by Getty Images
A good explanation of the copyright on using other people's photos, and various copyright myths that exist, from Getty Images.

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