As a creative entrepreneur, your designs are your most valuable asset. Because of the value that your designs hold, you should take full advantage of the laws whose primary function is to protect your designs.
Yep, you guessed it; we are going to talk about copyright law for artists.
I know that for some of you the idea of anything legal makes you want to run in the opposite direction. But as a smart, savvy entrepreneur, understanding the basics of copyright can make you more confident and earn you more money (isn't that your goal?).
So what does copyright law protect?
Copyright law protects "original works of authorship," which attorneys often shorten to "works." In non-legalese, copyright law for artists protects many of the things that you write, draw, photograph, sing, or make with your hands.
Notice I said "many"? The law is full of exceptions, so to make your life a little easier, we are going to talk about some of the things you can't protect, which will help shed light on what you can protect.
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Titles. The Copyright Office specifically states that titles, names, short phrases, and slogans do not receive copyright protection. Because of this, there can be hundreds of pieces called "tutu fun" and no artist can stop another from using that title for their piece.
Information. Another category that cannot receive protection under copyright law for artists is works that contain only commonly available information (think calendars, lists, or tables). But, the cute little illustration you draw on your calendar is protected. You just can't stop someone else from making a 7x5 grid representing the month, because that's commonly available information.
Ideas. Ideas are also not protected under the Copyright Act. That being said, how you carry out your idea is protected. For instance, you can't prevent another jewelry designer from making a necklace pendant out of bamboo cut in the shape of a feather. What you can prevent is another designer purchasing your pendant, tracing it,and then creating a pattern from that tracing to make an identical necklace.
Functional Items. The final area that trips up some makers is that copyright does not protect objects that have a primarily utilitarian function. Common examples of this are clothing and furniture. However, purely decorative elements of a functional item can gain copyright protection. For example, a designer creates a chair and hand-carves a geometric design on the back of the chair. The design of the chair itself does not get copyright protection (because its primary function is to sit on). But the geometric design on the back of the chair has no relation to its function as a chair and as such can be protected.
Now you have the basic tools to understand copyright law for artists, to determine if your latest creation is copyrightable. Not so difficult, right?
I'm a lawyer, so my insurance carrier likes me to use disclaimers. The information in this post is made available for educational purposes only, not to provide specific legal advice. I am not your attorney and this post is not a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.
Guest poster Kiffanie Stahle lives in San Francisco and is the founding partner of Stahle Law, where she provides copyright and trademark services to creatives of all kinds. She tries to make law a little less scary by giving her clients the tools they need to understand their legal rights and when to get assistance rather than forging ahead on their own. She loves to take photographs and occasionally will show them in public.