All artists are concerned when they find out that their art has been reproduced or shown without their permission. Whether the art appears in print, on television, in film, or on the internet, issues of copyright infringement are more prevalent than ever. Artists who realize that their art is being used without permission should assume their artistic copyright has been violated and they should take corrective action, legal or otherwise.
The most recent C2C Arts Roundtable was held on March 11, 2015 at Post Memorial Art Reference Library and focused on the important question of artistic rights. “What Everyone Should Know About Copyrights” was presented by Donald R. Simon, J.D./LL.M, president of Simon Business Consulting, Inc. & member of Kansas City Volunteer Lawyers & Accountants for the Arts (KCVLAA). A group of 30+ artists, arts organization/business representatives, and arts advocates/supporters gathered to learn the basics of copyright law: who owns what, how much you can use of someone else’s work, what’s really “fair” about “fair use,” what happens when you sell a piece, and how to avoid disputes. Myths were debunked and famous artists’ infringements were analyzed. Questions were asked and answered!
Didn’t make it? Just take a look at the video above. Need the executive summary? Look below:
- As an artist, you have exclusive right of control over your literary or artistic creations and are protected by U.S. copyright law grounded in the U.S. Constitution. This entitles you to virtual monopoly rights, to reproduce/copy and distribute, prepare derivatives works, and display or perform these works in public. These rights last over your entire lifetime as well as 70 years beyond, and may even apply to a work you create for hire.
- All artists should be concerned when they find out that their art has been reproduced or shown without their permission. It is up to an artist to detect any infringements on their works. Artists who realize their art is being used without permission should assume their artistic copyright has been violated and take corrective action. Mr. Simon emphasized that many times infringement issues can be handled with a simple telephone call. While it is optional whether you register a copyright, prior to any problems, it may be the best way to go in some cases where infringement is more likely. In either case, you would be entitled to actual damages, and if you register prior to the infringement, you may be entitled to statutory damages as well, that can be substantial.
- While there are some situations of “Fair Use” where your work can be used without permission or fee, these are very narrow exceptions and assessed by the courts on a case-by-case basis, so you can’t rely on any previous determinations. The distinction between what is “fair use” and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. Note: Just because you aren’t making any money does not mean it is a “fair use” of another’s work, and taking/using a photograph of someone else’s art without permission is infringement!
- While sometimes copyright sounds a lot like plagiarism, Mr. Simon emphasized the latter was an ethical violation and the former a legal one. Each artist must analyze risks of making and selling items that borrow from others’ brands, characters, or imagery.
We look forward to having Mr. Simon return to Joplin for a future Arts Roundtable!
Please email Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a digital copy of Mr. Simon’s presentation.