Copyright 101 for Artists

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Drip & Splat painting by Cantor Colburn staff to support the Arts Council’s United Arts Campaign

Before you read any further, you need to know the truth.

I have never practiced law in any capacity OR studied law at any length (besides a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science, thank you very much). With that said, if the following post sounds like I know the ins and outs of copyright, it’s only because the presenters of Cantor Colburn, LLP did a phenomenal job presenting at our seminar on Wednesday.

(The following post provides a recap of some of the information shared at the seminar. This is not to be considered legal advice. If you’re interested in legal advice, I’ve linked Cantor Colburn, LLP’s contact information at the end of this post!)

The Greater Hartford Arts Council partnered up with Cantor Colburn’s copyright attorneys to develop a seminar designed for local artists entitled “Creativity and the Law.”  The presentation delved into protection of craft through copyright, the process of licensing creative work, and obtaining copyright protection in addition to answering several questions from our engaging audience of local artists including musicians, photographers, and painters.

Prior to the presentation, our Community Programs Manager, Amanda Roy welcomed the attendees and introduced Michael Cantor, Co-Managing Partner of Cantor Colburn, LLP. In addition to providing the opening remarks, Cantor provided an enlightening and inspiring speech on the importance of creating a thriving community within the Greater Hartford region. To explain his dedication to the arts and dedication to showcasing Hartford’s vibrancy he was quoted saying, “Every single city that is thriving has a thriving arts and music ecosystem.” Cantor recognizes that arts and culture organizations are at the core of a strong community.

He then referred to copyright law as “incentive to create.”

Initially, a puzzling statement. You may be asking yourself, what could copyright law have anything to do with my desire to put pen to paper? However, Mr. Cantor goes deeper by asking, “why create if someone is going to copy it?” Isn’t the foundation for why we create what we create in the first place to make a unique work of art that’s never been created before? To have an expression that is OURS?

Following an introduction of our presenters: Michelle Ciotola, Partner & Vice Chair of the Trademark & Copyright Department, Chris Whalley, Trademark & Copyright Associate and Christa Lemon, Senior Trademark & Copyright Paralegal, was the official beginning of the presentation: Copyright Basics.

What is copyright?

A copyright © is a form of protection given to authors or creators of original works. There are four different types of intellectual property (creations of the mind such as literary and artistic works, inventions, symbols etc.) that fall under copyright law. Trademarks protect brands and other identifiers of source and quality for products and services. Patents protect inventions and discoveries. Trade Secrets protect commercially valuable information not readily available to competitors (i.e. the formula of Coca-Cola products would be considered a Trade Secret). Publicity Rights protect the individual’s right to control the commercial use of their name, likeness and ideal.

In order to license your creative work, it needs to adhere to two qualifiers. It must be an original work of authorship AND fixed (something tangible, i.e. written down or filmed medium of expression). Original works of authorship include literary works, musical works, dramatic works, and more. What can NOT be copyrighted? Things that are not fixed or original such as facts, titles, listing of ingredients, standard calendars, improv speeches and performances etc.

To summarize, ideas cannot be copyrighted, however, it is the EXPRESSION of the idea that is. The brilliant mystery novel you’ve been planning in your head? Unable to be copyrighted.  However, characters’ names, specific plot descriptions that are written down are things that can be copyrighted, as long as what is written down is original work.

The copyright process

There are two ways to process your copyright registration: online (filing) or paperwork (forms). The approximate processing time for online registration is 8 months, the approximate time for form registration is 14 months. To register a work one must submit a completed application form and a nonreturnable copy or copies of the work to be copyrighted. Looking for more information on getting your work copyrighted? Click here. The United State Copyright Office is full of extremely useful Copyright FAQ’s, tips, and information.

Copyright infringement

Often associated with copyright law is copyright infringement. To establish infringement, you must show: ownership of a valid copyright, copying of the work, improper appropriation. To prove improper appropriation, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s work is substantially similar to the original, copyrightable expression in the plaintiff’s work. A situation in which copyright infringement would be invalid would be if the copyrighted expression were being used for purposes such as criticism, commenting, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research. These are all called fair use and not considered infringement.

Learn more

For specific questions, advice, and council on copyright law, copyright registration, copyright infringement, please contact professional legal services, such as Cantor Colburn, LLP.

Another useful resource is Creative Commons, a non-profit organization designed to help you “legally share your knowledge and creativity to build a more equitable, accessible and innovative world”.

Join the United Arts Campaign to keep workshops and seminars like “Creativity and the Law” alive in our communities!

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