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What artists need to know about copyright law

If you're an artist, you know the feeling of pride and accomplishment that comes with finishing a project or labor of love. Whether you're a painter, writer, musician or any other form of artist, you are passionate about the work you produce and you rightfully proud of what you've created.

But what if someone were to steal your work and attempted to pass it off as their own, or tried to change it and profit from it in some way? You wouldn't want a work of art you worked so hard to create to be stolen - which is where copyright law comes in.

What is copyright law?

According to the United States Copyright Office, copyright law is a type of intellectual property that is granted by law to protect original works of authorship. The law is based upon language included in the United States Constitution, and it protects all sorts of original works, including novels, movies, songs and even architecture. It covers things that have been published, as well as those that haven't yet been published.

There are, however, certain things that aren't covered under copyright law. The law does not protect ideas, facts or methods - ideas are not protected under the law, whild methods are protected by patent law. Copyright also doesn't protect words, phrases or symbols - these are covered under trademark laws. In order to get any of those things protected, you would have to register the work with either of those departments.

How do you get a copyright?

Fortunately for artists, copyright law kicks in from the second you create the work of art. There is no registration required to be protected by the law, and registering is completely voluntary. It doesn't matter if you've never published the work - it doesn't even matter if no one else has ever seen the work. Everything is still protected as your intellectual property.

Why should you register?

Though registering is not required, it can provide several benefits as an artist. If you were to find that someone had stolen your original work, you would not be able to file a lawsuit until you had registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. You will also be provided a certificate of registration and the work becomes part of public record.

If your work were to receive some sort of damage and it held a registered copyright, you may be able entitled to fees for the damages plus attorneys' fees if you succeed in court. Your work is also considered "prima facie" evidence, or evidence that is considered correct until proven otherwise, if it has been registered within five years of creation. These benefits will make it easier to prove that your copyright has been infringed, and make it more likely that you'll receive compensation for the infringement.

How do you register?

Registering your work with the United States Copyright Office is actually very simple. You will have to fill out an application form and submit it along with a copy of the work you're trying to register. You must submit a copy and not the original work because they will not return it. You can go through this process by mail or online, and there are specific fees applied to the method you choose to file through, so be sure to check those with the USCO.

As an artist, you have put tremendous passion and effort into your work, and it deserves to be protected. If you have questions or concerns about getting or enforcing a copyright, an experienced copyright lawyer can help.

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