How to Copyright Artwork

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How to Copyright Artwork. Copyright is proof of authorship and legal protection for the creators of artistic works, including visual artwork. According to the 1976 Copyright Act and the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, artists control decisions about the reproduction and public display of their work. Copyright your artwork with these steps.

Step 1

Understand that your artwork are automatically protected by copyright immediately after creation. However, artists should consider formally registering artwork with the U.S. Copyright Office, particularly if the work is to be duplicated commercially.

Step 2

Ascertain that your work fits the definition of visual art for copyright purposes. The term "visual arts" applies, legally, to any two- or three-dimensional work of applied, graphic or fine art. The rather extensive list begins with advertisements and ends with weaving designs.

Step 3

Fill out application Form VA, and if needed, the Form CON (continuation form). Download these forms from the copyright site. Verify the amount of the current copyright fee with the Copyright office and make payment to "Register of Copyrights."

Step 4

Send a copy of your artwork along with the application form. Copies will not be returned. Send one copy of an unpublished work or two copies of a published work. For three-dimensional objects, like sculptures, send a copy of the sculpture along with identifying material such as photos and/or text related to the sculpture. A gallery or art show catalog is an example of identifying material.

Step 5

Mail your copyright application, fee and deposit to: Library of Congress Copyright Office 101 Independence Avenue, S.E. Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

Step 6

Expect to receive a registration certificate within four months, although registration is effective as soon as the Copyright Office receives your submission.

Step 7

Add copyright notices to your works as extra protection. Use any of the following: copyright, copr. or ©. Add your name as the artist and the year of the copyright. For example: copr. Mary Smith, 2007.


  • Copyright protection for visual artists does not extend to "work-for-hire" arrangements. If you create an advertisement during your work as an employee for an advertising agency, the agency owns the copyright to your work.
  • Copyright law does not extend to ideas, familiar symbols, titles or procedures.
  • Photographers must be extra careful in protecting their copyright due to the ease in reproducing work digitally or through negatives.


  • Artists continue to own the copyright of artwork even after selling them. The artist still must grant permission for copies to be made and/or sold.
  • Registration fees add up. Artists who produce a large amount of work may want to copyright art as part of a larger group, such as paintings for a specific year.