Copyright for Artists and Writers – pitfalls, current developments, and solutions

Copyright to our own work is not just a matter of vanity but a right to artists and writers all over the world. Recently it has been under great pressure from various sides:

There is the Orphan Works Bill in the US which is continually rearing its ugly head. Read more here and here.

Then there is Clause 43 of the Digital Economy Bill in the UK which is very hot right now as it will be decided on April 6 2010 (not much time!!!) – if you’re in the UK, check out these links to do something about it as there is still time to protest about Clause 43 of the digital economy bill, which deals with orphan works.

A comment

Protest Site

Find your MP

Both bills deal with orphan works and are lobbied by big companies like Google. The idea is that where it is difficult or impossible to find the owner of a copyrighted image you are allowed to use the image as long as you undertook reasonable steps to find the owner. The phrasing for both the Orphan Works Bill and Clause 43 of the Digital Economy Bill is suitably vague to allow for misuse. This can cause all sorts of problems, from illustrators who sold an image with an exclusive license that isn’t exclusive any longer if it is used by someone else who claims it was an orphan work, to your image being used in a context you would not approve of, but also as far as the rights of the original owner of the image go when trying to put a stop to the unauthorised use of an image. Under current law the owner of the image will receive damages and legal costs, under the new law they will only receive remuneration for the ‘current value’ of the image.

All this doesn’t include the problems that already occur with copyright theft where you suddenly find your images on a site like Zazzle or other such sites that print on demand. Do you want to see your image on a mug, a t-shirt or a pair of shoes without your knowledge or permission or your poem published on a forum under someone else’s name?

This brings us to the next problem, what can you do if you find your copyright infringed? If it’s a print on demand site or a forum you can contact the administrator and ask for the image/writing to be taken down. However, requests like this are often ignored as the administrator has no real incentive to protect your image/writing, especially without proof. So we need to give them proof. It is difficult and costly to obtain copyright from the Copyright Office (be it in the UKEurope, Australia, or the US) so that’s often a no-go for poor artists (and writers). What then can we do?

Here are a few tips:

  • Add your name to each image (somewhere in the corner) and to every piece of writing.
  • Use MyFreeCopyright for both images and writing.
  • Show the details of the MCN number obtained with MyFreeCopyright next to the image/writing or in the description.
  • On sites like Redbubble and DeviantArt opt for the watermark – yes, it’s not pretty BUT it protects you from lazy thieves.
  • When you post your images or writing anywhere else, add your own watermark – for images create a transparent text layer over the top of the image with your copyright details – for writing add the copyright information at the bottom or post your writing as an image where the copyright is an integral part of the writing – here’s a template to use as a background for your writing – free.
  • Don’t post anything without copyright information or where it is difficult or impossible to immediately realise who the owner of the work is.

And then there is the other side of the coin, as an artist, you should always respect the copyright of other artists. This means, for example, if you use stock images, textures etc in a photo manipulation, always add a credit to the artist and image/texture you used. The same is true if you use an image as a reference. When you copyright your image on MyFreeCopyright, make sure you give credit for all your sources on there as well.

For writers the same applies, although writers are less likely to use other people’s work, they still need to protect themselves and as long as sites like Redbubble and DeviantArt don’t provide the means to protect the writings posted sufficiently, we will need to do what we can.

It is important that you keep a record if you use MyFreeCopyright – if you use Thunderbird, use one of the backup programs (e.g. Mozbackup) that you can download for free and make regular backups of your e-mail.

Above all, don’t ever forget that the copyright to your creation is YOUR right. Fight for it and fight to keep this right. It’s important. Apart from the fact that someone else might cash in on your hard work they might also use it for something which you wouldn’t approve of…..

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2 thoughts on “Copyright for Artists and Writers – pitfalls, current developments, and solutions

  1. Very useful information! I’ve relied, for some of my written works, on Creative Commons licenses. I was just reading about Shephard Fairey and his legal battle with the Associated Press. Copyright is something to take seriously. Have a great week!

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