Guest Post-Will Terry-Registering Your Copyright – Pros and Cons

The issue of copyright and protecting our images has always been an issue with artist’s.  In this modern era with the advent of the internet removing international boundaries, our work is seen everywhere and can be snagged and used by someone else at the key tap of a finger. This stretches out the net we need to cast as artist’s to protect ourselves and stretches thin our ability to realistically do so.

Is it a pointless endeavor? If we legally register copyrights on our images with the gov’t, how much good does that really do us? Is the financial investment worth it? There are many opinions out there on this subject and we would love to hear your opinions. Today Will Terry drops by and shares a video post expressing the experiences of himself, his peers and the conclusion he has come to for himself.

Please know that this isn’t meant to be the only answer to the question, but one possible answer amongst many. Consider it food for thought.

Artists often wonder if they should or shouldn’t spend the time, money, and effort to register their copyright. There are some distinct advantages to registering with the US copyright office but there are also disadvantages – some of which you might not have thought of. In the above video I give information from 96 professional illustrators. I asked them if they register their copyrights – their answers might surprise you. In the end it’s always good to educate yourself on this subject so you can make the decision for yourself. If you want more information the US Copyright Office has a great FAQ section here.



  1. MADART ~ Megan Aroon Duncanson

    You can also register your art in collections and still only pay $35 for an entire years worth of art if you so choose, or per quarter, month, etc. It just has to be categorized separately as “published” and “non-published” (two separate registrations). Great insight on both sides of the issue, thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    All the best,

  2. Lewis T. Johnson

    Lewis Johnson • Hi Will, I enjoyed your video on copyright and would just like to mention that placing the copyright symbol on your art next to the title with a digital file is preferable even requested by agent representatives as I can personally attest. Each time I create or modify a piece I fill out and save the metadata file for each new digital image and this includes the copyright symbol , date and my name. This is one way to ensure an accurate record of when and who created the design. If you do market and license your art, the copyright ID along with the title indicate that you take your work and any unauthorized use seriously. Copyright violators from the individual overseas to the home grown small company really have idea of your scale or resources available to pursue a violation and letting them know that you know is a good idea in any case.

  3. Alfred Ingram

    Statutory copyright damages aren’t small, but the damages you get if the work isn’t registered are usually limited to your actual economic damage.
    “the copyright owner may elect, at any time before final judgment is rendered, to recover, instead of actual damages and profits, an award of statutory damages for all infringements involved in the action, with respect to any one work, for which any one infringer is liable individually, or for which any two or more infringers are liable jointly and severally, in a sum of not less than $750 or more than $30,000 as the court considers just”

    This applies to derivative work as well as outright theft. It’s not going to help you go to court in India, but if someone takes your work slightly modifies it and selle it as posters on say Zazzle, you can recover damages because Zazzle is liable too.

    If you choose to register you should do so in groups. Some artists do this at the end of the year.

    You can provide electronic copies for unpublished work. Publishing companies usually register work in books magazines and newspapers.

    One fee once a year is fair insurance at a small price. Also there is nothing like having your portfolio reviewed and having the reviewer think you stole your own work because they saw the thief’s portfolio first.

  4. Patsy Coogan

    Thanks, Will. I’m just getting started in the licensing business and appreciate your comments and research.
    A writer on a LinkedIn forum suggested that if someone in a foreign country licenses your art, you can go after the importer. Another writer suggested that for small infractions, a cease-and-desist letter might solve the problem.

  5. Peter Rogers

    Wilson Williams Jr asked me to copy this over. My reply to his post on LinkedIn

    Copyright is often misunderstood. It comes automatically as soon as you write or draw something. The problem is proving ownership if some problem arises later. Prior to the advent of copyright agencies and the like, a writer would post themselves a printed copy of their work, signed, sealed and dated at a post office then when delivered, put it away unopened just in case. In case of later infringement, this sealed and dated package would be pulled out and opened under legal supervision thereby proving the existence of that work at that date.
    I would presume that artists could do the same with a photograph of their work. However, modern computers make this easier. Simply e,mail yourself a copy as a file attachment and save it to a disc. That e.mail will be automatically dated so later infringements can be proven to have been created later.
    When if comes to publishing, a writer can be told they retain copyright, but have signed a contract taking away all other rights to their work. This means that they can say they created that piece of work, but all reproduction rights through which any income can be earned, belong to someone else.
    The real point is that there is more to the issue of ‘rights’ than mere copyright.

  6. Mili

    The last I know of the Canadian law, if you created it you have the copyright. As far as my artwork goes, everything that I do not want others to use I watermark on the web.

  7. Steve Feldman

    I do register. I think the attitude of “there isn’t really anything you can do about infringement anyway ” is harmful. I license the usage of my existing images. How can I justify charging an honest client for usage if I allow someone else to steal and use them for free? The extra legal muscle provided by registering may be a deterrent and an added incentive for infringers to comply quickly when confronted. Web infringement is most common and I do confront and collect or have my images removed from sites where my work is used without permission – around the world.

    There is a survey form compiled by the Graphic Artists Guild in response to US Copyright Office ongoing interest in creatives thoughts on the formation of a lower cost legal alternative for those whose work has been infringed to get quicker and cheaper resolution to infringement cases.
    I recommend all illustrators make their thoughts known. Creatives can only stop the mentality of enabling infringement if we all stand up and say it is not okay. Registering adds legal power to that statement.

  8. David Hohn

    Need to comment on Peter Rogers post — Wile I’m sure he did not intended to mislead, unfortunately the process he describes is an urban myth often referred to as “The Poor Man’s Copyright” . Please do not do this as an alternative to registering your work with the US Copyright Office. You will be unable to defend your copyright in court using this method.

    The question is addressed in the seventh paragraph

    • WilsonWJr

      I see you found the post and video David! I was just about to message it to you! Thanks for your input and you are 100% correct that the poor man’s copyright is a myth and inadmissible as proof of copyright in court. Thanks David!!


Leave a Reply