Many of us do not adequately protect our work or our online images. Do any of these ‘reasons’ sound familiar: no one will ever want this image; I’m too small to worry about this now; I’m too busy. And then, WHAM!, we get an unexpected break that throws our work into the spotlight, or create a design for a company that uses our work in unintended ways, or come up with an eye-popping image everyone wants. Next thing we know, our work gets used without our permission.
Applying for copyrights, and keeping accurate documention are time consuming activites, but there are a multitude of resources available which explain the ins and out of copyright. Before we get to that, here are the experiences of the two artists, Skullboy and Lisa Marie O’Connell, I interviewed for this post. One thing you’ll notice is that when the artists were successful in battling these cases, they meticulously documented their transactions.
- The Tshirt at the heart of Skullboy’s dispute
Q. Skullboy, can you explain a little bit about how your art was used and what actions you took?
A. The art in question was actually on a shirt, Ellen. This case is a prime example of why artists need to protect their intellectual property. A store I had consigned merchandise to decided to copy my New Jersey Skulls shirt after we had a falling out. I had one of the knock-off shirts purchased and brought it to my lawyer, whose specialty is trademark and copyright. He needed substantial proof that it was my “intellectual property” and asked for a timeline of the design in production. I provided him with a few years worth of sales and events where the design had been used, including dated newspaper articles featuring the design. What was extremely important was that I had printed and saved all written correspondence between myself and the store. It helped to outline a working history with the store and the knowledge that they were directly infringing on my intellectual property. A cease and desist was issued. Artists, ALWAYS COVER YOUR BUTTS.
From my talk with Lisa Marie O’Connell.
"Crow in Blue," by Lisa Marie O'Connell
Q. Lisa Marie, I understand you learned some lessons the hard way. Can you describe a little bit about what happened to you?
A. Quite a few years ago I did freelance, spot illustrations for an advertising agency near
Industrial Way. I worked with their art director closely, felt that we had a nice business relationship, and received jobs from them on a regular basis. I had done a set of specific
designs and was told they were simply going to be used in ads for local newspapers and on the company’s website. I was paid accordingly. One day I am driving on Rt. 66 and I look at the billboard and 20 foot high in the air is my illustration! I carefully pull over to take it all in and can’t believe what I am seeing. My initial reaction should have been, Cool! How amazing to see your work larger than life! But instead, I thought….wait a minute….for a small press fee, a billboard is created? Someone profited from my design and unfortunately, it wasn’t me.
Q. Did you confront the agency?
A. I did confront the ad agency and they acted like it was out of their control and that these
things happen…they suggested ‘we’ all take the loss and be grateful for the work because at the time it was one of their bigger clients. The facts are I was young and inexperienced. I was just out of school, living in Manhattan and grabbing freelance work where ever I could get it.
Q. Have you had any other situations like this?
A. I was hired to redesign a logo. I did and the client was happy. I had made a few visits to the client’s office, and every time they requested or approved a revision I had them sign off on it by initialing and dating it. The client was also given copies of everything they had signed/approved before I had left each meeting. I had all the approvals from portfolio review to the camera-ready finished piece, and I made copies of them. When it came time to get paid I was told none of the work I had done was authorized and I wasn’t getting paid a cent. I took all of my documentation that the person had signed off on, and sued them for the money owed to me. The morning of the appointed court date, I was called down to the attorney’s office, handed a check, and made to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Below are some resources to help you learn more about copyright and trademark issues.
If you’re a 2-D artist, here’s what you can protect using Form VA, from the United States
2-Dimensional artwork: Watercolor and oil paintings; pen and ink drawings; logo illustrations; greeting cards; collages; stencils; patterns; computer graphics; graphics appearing in screen displays; artwork appearing on posters, calendars, games, commercial prints and labels, and packaging, as well as 2-dimensional artwork applied to useful articles, and designs reproduced on textiles, lace, and other fabrics; on wallpaper, carpeting, floor tile, wrapping paper, and clothing.
Reproductions of works of art: Reproductions of preexisting artwork made by, for example, lithography, photoengraving, or etching.
Maps: Cartographic representations of an area, such as state and county maps, atlases, marine charts, relief maps,and globes.
Photographs: Pictorial photographic prints and slides and holograms.
This Wikipedia article talks about copyright, copyright history and use http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright
This was created for teachers, and is possibly the most fun you could have while learning about copyright: http://www.loc.gov/teachers/copyrightmystery/text/
Many of us do not need Trademark protection. If you are not sure if you do or not, read this
article called “An Artist’s Guide to Trademarks,” by Dana Vouglitois, a LegalArt Legal Intern.
Visual Arts Blogger, Monmouth Arts