Copyright terms every artist should know

Copyright terms every artist should know

If you're reading this, there is a good chance you are an artist or work in the creative field. Here is a small list of copyright terms I believe are most important when it comes to collaborating with other people. Treat this blog post as a tutorial of sorts which could help you when reviewing a legal agreement. 

1. Work for Hire

The term “work made for hire” is connected to the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976. The term’s most basic purpose is to change the default rule of copyright ownership. Ordinarily, you as the author automatically own the copyright to a work from the moment you create it. But with “work made for hire,” where it applies, the person paying for the work, not you, is treated as its author. The key words in that last sentence are “where it applies.” That’s because “work made for hire” is limited in scope. Where it applies depends a lot on your relationship with the person or company paying you.
More about Works Made for Hire


The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is an American set of copyright laws freshly created to deal with digital material. Many countries have similar laws. Broadly, the aim of DMCA is to protect the rights of both copyright owners and consumers. When someone sees their copyright infringed online, it gives web hosts and Internet service providers a safe harbour from copyright infringement claims, if they implement certain notice or takedown procedures of the infringing item.
More about DMCA

3. Derivative + Transformative Work

A derivative or Transformative work is work based on an existing model. Look at Richard Prince, for example, the majority of his work is stolen from other artists and is ‘slightly’ modified. If the original artwork is not yours but you have permission or a license, only your own changes will be protected by copyright.
More about Copyright in Derivative Works and Compilations

4. Fair Use

Fair use is an exception to copyright law. It allows unauthorized use of copyrighted works for purposes of reporting, commenting on, educating about, or even parodying. One typically goes about using unauthorized work under fair use, by using an excerpt of a work, and giving proper credit while not harming the commercial value of the original work.
More about Fair Use


Pro Tip*

Register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office! You can register thousands of images at once, it's really inexpensive, and it can be a big advantage in court! 
More about Registering a Copyright