What can be copyright protected?
Copyright protection applies to literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, plus a few other creative activities. Artistic works include paintings, drawings, engravings, photographs, sculptures, collages, technical drawings, diagrams, maps and logos, etc.
In order to attract copyright protection, artwork must be "original". This means it must be the result of independent creative effort.
A copy of something that already exists cannot be original, but if an artwork is similar to something that already exists, but which has not been copied, then it may be original (*).
Copyright does not protect ideas for an artwork: it is only the work itself that is protected. If you have created an "original work", you will have copyright protection without having to do anything to establish this. In the United Kingdom (and most other parts of the world), there is no official registration system for copyright.
For artistic works, in the UK, the term of protection of copyright is - for the life of the creator, plus 70 years from the end of the year in which they die.
What is the benefit of copyright protection?
Copyright protected work must not be reproduce in another medium without the owner's permission. This includes activities such as photocopying images, using images for cross-stitch patterns, painting from a photograph, publishing images on the Internet, and so on.
Copyright should stop others from using your work without your permission. The existence of copyright may be enough to prevent others from to using your material, but it also gives you the right to take legal action to stop misuse, and to claim damages.
Copyright owners generally have the right to authorise or prohibit the use of their work, and so realise the opportunity to make commercial gain from the use of their work. You could, for example, sell or license your copyrighted images for use by others.
(*) For the artist, copyright is a double-edged sword. Painters in particular should avoid breaching copyright when working from photographs. In the case of landscapes, it would be difficult to prove breach of copyright, since many scenic locations are generally accessible to the public. But with celebrity portraits, the artist should proceed with caution; it would be impossible for most artists to have a celebrity sit for them, and therefore it is easier for a copyright holder to prove that their photograph has been copied.
Using copyright protection
There are a number of steps Artists should take to help protect their work, especially if it is published on the Internet. It is advisable to mark all work with the © symbol. This lets others know they should not use the artist's work without permission. The © symbol should have the name of the copyright owner next to it. This helps anyone wishing to use the artwork to trace the copyright holder. If you also put the year in which the work was created next to the © symbol, this will let others know when the term of protection started.
If your artwork is published on the Internet, there are a number of safeguards you should consider. These will be the subject of further articles.
Portraits by John Burton