United States patent law covers only the intellectual property of inventors and their industrial innovations, so art is not patentable. That doesn't mean artists can't protect their intellectual property rights, however, as the United States Copyright Office protects images, words, music and other creative works from being copied and distributed without the creator's permission. Better than patents, which expire after a short term and allow everyone to use the innovation, copyright is a long-term intellectual property claim, defending rights for the length of the registrant's life plus an additional 70 years after that.
Guarantee that your artwork is your own property. Copyright is not valid when it infringes upon an existing copyright holder's intellectual property. For your work to qualify for copyright protection, it must be a new work and not feature characters owned by corporations, draw extensively on images created by others and must be certified as being your own work.
Measure that your work is a type of art that the Library of Congress recognizes as copyrightable. Most recognized media may be registered by the artist, though experimental formats may be too new to register.
Create a login on the U.S. Copyright Office's eCO system (see Resources).
Prepare a copy of your artwork for submission. If you choose to file electronically, you must provide a photograph of your work submitted in an approved file type (.bmp, .dwg, .dwf, .fdr, .gif, .giff, .jpg, .jpeg, .jfif, .pdf, .pic, .pict, .png, .psd, .pub, .tga, .tif, .tiff, or .wmf). If you intend to submit a hard copy of your work to the Copyright Office, the registration system will generate an address and barcode to be used when mailing your materials later.
Fill out artist information and a description of the work as described on the eCO system.
Using a PayPal or credit or debit card, pay the $35 registration fee.
If you opted to mail a hard copy of your work to the office, eCO will generate a shipping label to use when mailing. Print this and prepare the copy of your artwork for mailing.
Await confirmation. Once the Copyright Office has processed your claim, you will receive notification by mail of your copyright.
- painting image by Dmitri MIkitenko from Fotolia.com