are copyright laws really such a good thing?

Copyright law is meant to balance the interests of the individual, specific artist (who wants to own and control the use of the property she creates) with the interests of the public (i.e. the rest of us, who want to be free to create without undue restrictions). As you can imagine, that’s a pretty delicate balancing act. And the more art that’s created, and the easier it becomes to share creations, and the more money there is to be made (potentially) from a creation, the more we’re all going to find ourselves bumping up against copyright law in ways that make us go hmmm….

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We’ve surveyed the anti-copyright landscape and what becomes apparent pretty quickly is that every arguer has a rather specific pet grievance. Some say that copyright law applied to the music and film industries really only benefits movie studios and famous musicians; they already make enough money, so we the common folk should get to share their music and movies with wild abandon. Others contend that copyright is “anti-art,” citing studies purportedly proving that copyright stifles creativity. Others point out that rules preventing the unlocking of software on phones and other electronics amounts to corporate overreaching on our own physical property. Likewise, many argue that copyright extension benefits corporate IP owners far more than artists, since the term of life plus 70 or more vastly exceeds what artists truly need. Others—seeing the exciting use of public domain imagery in book publishing and in new designs, artworks and products—argue that greater availability of public domain material acts as a creative catalyst.

As you’ve probably noticed, copyright is a big issue with lots of different kinds of stakeholders. While we believe many of these topics are worth discussing, we’re gonna keep our focus on the field of visual arts, since that’s what we’re all about here at F13.

Are there any basic principles that most of us agree on? Well, let’s remember that copyright is about property. What we haven’t heard anyone argue is that visual artists shouldn’t own their own creations. We also haven’t heard anyone propose that all artworks should simply be up for grabs. Nevertheless, the sad fact is that there are individuals and companies that would rather use someone else’s property without permission. If we were talking about any other sort of property we would call that theft, right? So let’s not lose sight of that simple fact when we explore arguments against copyright laws.

Another sort of grumbling we hear is that it’s just a pain in the butt to manage and protect one’s copyright. How much effort one puts into it is a business decision and if you’re serious about building a lasting art brand, we recommend making it a priority. Any worthwhile management system will include, at a minimum:

  • Clear written agreements whenever you allow use of your images (We’re going to have a whole series coming up on what should be covered in those agreements.)
  • A reliable system for cataloguing your images and tracking licenses.
  • Regular and consistent use of identifiers in your online images (e.g. a watermark, your logo, your website, your copyright notice, or all of the above)
  • And yes, we do think that registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office is generally a good practice. Wondering why? That, friends, will be the topic of our next post.

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Please remember: The information provided on this blog and throughout our website is intended for general educational purposes only. While some information on this site relates to the law as a topic, it's not intended as a substitute for legal advice. Only a lawyer, selected by you and fully informed of the facts relating to your particular situation, can render legal advice.