© Copyright Laws

This information is not meant to be a legal source. This and more information on copyright laws can be found in many legal texts and websites as well as the US Government Copyright Office website. Links are at the bottom of this article.

What is Copyright?


Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of a creative work. A copyright is comprised of a number of exclusive rights, including the right to make copies, authorize others to make copies, make derivative works, license, sell, market, and display the work.

Copyright Owner:

Under the Copyright Act of 1976, copyright owner refers to the person or entity listed as the creator/owner in the U.S. Copyright Office, usually the original artist. Second, it refers to a person or entity to which an exclusive part of the copyright has been transferred in writing. For instance, Sarno Photography & Graphic Design™ may transfer over copyrights of company's logo to the commissioning company.

What Does Copyright Protect?

Copyright protects any and all original, creative, artworks. This can include but is not limited to:

  • Literary arts such as: poetry, books, written copy, novels, short stories, speeches, software code, etc.
  • Musical arts such as: sheet music, recorded music, performances, CDs, DVDs, tapes, etc.
  • Visual arts such as: illustrations, designs, paintings, drawings, photographs, architectural designs, movies, multi media CD-ROMs, videos, DVDs, sculptures, video games, all fine arts, etc.
  • Performing arts such as: choreography, plays, musicals, etc.

Copyright does not protect names, facts, ideas, concepts or brands. These are all protected under trademarks or patents. For example: You can copyright a book on the subject of "extra terrestrials among us" but you can not copyright the idea of "extra terrestrials among us" or the name "Extra Terrestrials Among Us".

Who is the Owner of the Copyright?

The original artist is the copyright owner of the created artwork.

The only exceptions are:

  • “Work-for-hire.” If an employee creates an artwork, that artwork is copyrighted by that employee's employer.
  • If an independent contractor signs away his copyrights to another in writing.
  • If the work is part of a larger body of work such as a movie then the commissioning person owns the copyrights to the larger final work but not necessarily the individual contributions.

How Does Artwork Qualify for Copyright Protection?

For copyright protection, an artwork must be original, creative, and fixed in copy or a tangible medium of expression.

First, the artwork must exist in some physical form for at least some period of time, no matter how minute. Virtually any form of expression will qualify as a tangible medium, including: paper, film, CDs a computer's hard drive, or the doodle on a napkin that contains the basis for an art piece or speech. Even your child's art is copyrighted.

Second, the work must be original. In other words, independently created by the artist. It doesn't matter if an artist's creation is slightly similar to existing works, or even if it is perhaps lacking in aesthetic appeal. As long as the artist creates without copying from someone else, the artwork is protected by copyright.

Finally, to receive copyright protection, a work must be the result of at least some creative effort on the part of the artist. There is no black and white rule as to how much creativity is adequate. The example of a phone book's white pages is often used to describe something of no creativity that can not be copyrighted.

How Long Does a Copyright Last?

For works published after 1977, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

What Rights do Copyright Owners Have Under the Copyright Act?

The Copyright Act of 1976 grants a number of exclusive rights to copyright owners, including:

  • Reproduction rights: The right to make copies of a protected work
  • Distribution rights: The right to sell or otherwise distribute copies to the public
  • Adaptations rights: The right to prepare new works based on the protected work (called derivative works)
  • Performance and display rights: The rights to perform a protected work (such as a stage play) or to display a work in public
  • Licensing rights: The right to license, with limitations, the use of the artists creative work to others
  • Exclusive rights: The right to prevent others from having the right to perform any of the above rights

What role does a copyright notice play?

As of March 1, 1989 artists are no longer required to post copyright information on their artwork to claim protection under the copyright laws. Even though it is not required artists will still post a copyright on their artwork to “remind” the public that their artwork is protected under copyright laws. A proper copyright notice is: Copyright © 2007 Sarno Photography & Graphic Design™. However, since the copyright notice is no longer required and many commercial artists do not what their work to appear outdated, the date is often left out of the copyright notice.

When is Copyright Protection Secured on An Artwork?

It is frequently misunderstood as to when an artwork is copyrighted. No actual registration or publication in the Copyright Office is required for an artwork to be copyright protected. A copyright is secured automatically the instant the artwork is created. A work is considered created when it is fixed in copy or a tangible medium of expression. In other words: the instant the shutter is pressed, the pen touches paper, brush to canvas, hand to clay, record is pressed, or save is clicked, for the first time.

Registering a copyright with the Copyright Office has added advantages for an artist such as indisputable proof and the ability to more easily recoup court costs and punitive damages. At Sarno Photography & Graphic Design™ I frequently register all my artwork.

How Do Copyright Laws Affect My Advertising?

The copyright laws give Sarno Photography & Graphic Design™ the right to license my artwork for you to use in your advertising, marketing, and promotions. I retain sole © copyrights of all my artwork. I license the use of my artwork to my customers. You will then share in the benefits of licensing artwork. By purchasing a license to use my artwork for limited use, you will save considerable amount of money. This is because you will not need to use my artwork indefinitely, you will use it only for the time that you need. Thus you will not waste money on rights that you will never use.

For more information on copyright please see the following links:

General Information

US Copyright Office
The US government's official copyright website contains the full copyright law code, FAQ, registration forms, and more

10 Big Myths About Copyright
Explained by Brad Templeton

Crash Course in Copyright
A crash course in copyright written by Georgia K. Harper

Intellectual property copyright information
FAQ on copyright and intellectual property provided by the international World Intellectual Property Organization - WIPO

Copyright Information for Artists

Step By Step guide to Copyright Submission
A complete guide to registering your copyrights, provided by American Society of Media Photographers - ASMP

Copyright information for photographers
A comprehensive list of articles and links about copyright provided by Editorial Photographers - EP

Copyright information for photographers
An article about copyright and licensing written by Jeff Sedlik, provided by Advertising Photographers of America - APA

Copyright information for graphic artists and designers
Information on Copyright law provided by the Graphic Artist Guild - GAG

Copyright information for graphic artists and designers
Information on Copyright law provided by American Institute of Graphic Arts – AIGA

Legal Advice

Copyright Attorneys
List of copyright attorneys

Intellectual Property Self Help
Information about copyright provided by Nolo, a self help legal information service