How to Copyright Art: Protect Your Creative Work in California

Do you remember the hit song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams?

While the song was a huge success, the two singers faced serious legal challenges after being sued in 2013 by the family of soul icon Marvin Gaye, who alleged they had copied his 1977 disco-era classic “Got to Give It Up.”

A federal jury in Los Angeles, California, unanimously determined that Blurred Lines plagiarized parts of Gaye’s song following a protracted legal battle, and they awarded his children $7.4 million in damagesLater, a California judge reduced the damages to $5.3M and ordered Thicke and William to pay Gaye’s estate half of any future income from the song.

The above case is an excellent example of how copyright can help you as a California artist protect your creations from being reproduced without your consent and stop others from making money off your work.

In this blog post, we’ll define copyright, share the copyright registration process, and discuss copyright infringement. Plus, discover how the copyright law attorneys at Gallagher Krich, APC, can assist you with all your copyright needs.

What Is Copyright?

The U.S. Copyright Office describes copyright as a set of laws that provide original work creators the sole right to exhibit, distribute, reproduce, modify, sell, perform, etc., their art. Many types of artistic expression — including paintings, music, photos, books, software, technical drawings, motion pictures and video games — are covered by copyright laws.

In California, as well as the rest of the United States, copyright protection is automatically provided to your work as soon as it’s in physical or digital form, making it your property.

So, for example, if you develop a mobile app and bring it to market, its written code is immediately protected by the U.S. Copyright Act upon release, and you’ll be able to claim copyright infringement if someone uses the code without authorization from you.

Although you don’t need to take any action to obtain copyright protection for your original creation, we recommend that you get a registered copyright from the U.S. Copyright Office for the following reasons:

  • If someone steals your work, it will be easier to establish ownership thanks to copyright registration, which produces a public record. 
  • To prevent legal delays: If your copyright hasn’t been registered, you can’t file a lawsuit for infringement against someone. The time taken for copyright registration can range from a month to a year plus, delaying your legal action.

Additionally, registering your copyright prior to an infringement gives you the right to statutory damages plus your legal costs in a copyright infringement litigation.

Statutory damages enable you to receive compensation without having to provide evidence of the extent of your loss due to someone stealing your work or the infringer’s financial gain.

What Is the Copyright Registration Process?

There are three key steps to registering a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office:

  • Submitting a Registration Application

You can send this electronically through eCO, the U.S. Copyright Office’s electronic filing system, or by mail. Your personal information, description of your art, the date of creation, and a lot more details will be requested on the application form.

The Copyright Office strongly recommends that applications be done digitally, because they’re typically handled faster than paper applications, and you can easily check the progress of your application online.

  • Pay a Filing Fee

Several things determine the fee you must pay. For instance, filing online is less expensive than mailing your copyright registration application.

The non-refundable charge ranges from $35–$500. A list containing the latest fees can be viewed here.

  • Provide A Copy of Your Original Art Being Registered

You won’t get your work submissions back, whether you mail them or send them electronically to the U.S. Copyright Office. Therefore, be careful to provide copies only and not the original piece.

After you complete all of the above steps, the U.S. Copyright Office will scrutinize your request and, if it satisfies the standards for copyright protection, will issue you with an official certificate of registration, which in the event of a legal dispute will be a vital piece of evidence of art ownership in court. It’s important to exercise patience, as the copyright registration process can take several months.

As mentioned earlier, you don’t have to get copyright registration for your artwork — but doing so puts you in a stronger legal position to take action against anyone trying to claim your art as their own.

Keep an eye out for any cases of infringement of your work after receiving your copyright registration. To check if your art is being utilized without your consent, you can regularly do searches online and offline. Make sure to seek legal advice as soon as you become aware of any instances of infringement to safeguard your rights.

Note: the fair use doctrine, which is part of copyright law, permits limited use of material protected by copyright without the approval of the owner for purposes like criticism, commentary, education, news reporting, or research.

Artwork is protected by copyright for the lifetime of the creator plus an additional 70 years. The work of art becomes freely usable after this time.

Call Our California Art and Copyright Law Attorneys for a Free Consultation

Ready to take the next step in protecting your art through copyright? To discuss whether your work qualifies for copyright protection, get in touch with Gallagher Krich, APC, to arrange a free consultation with our knowledgeable copyright lawyers, who have 30+ years of combined experience in commercial litigation, including art law.

If eligible, we can help you with every aspect of California copyright law, including guiding you through the complex process of submitting your copyright registration application with the U.S. Copyright Office to ensure a smooth registration, monitoring for unauthorized use of your copyrighted work, sending cease and desist letters to infringers, demanding an end to copyright violations immediately, and, if necessary going to court to defend your rights.

For more information on how we can assist you, call us at (858) 926-5797 or fill out our online contact form today.

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