In the world of artistic creation, a comprehensive understanding of copyright for artists is crucial. Artists must navigate the nuances of copyright law to safeguard their works and uphold the rights of their peers.

Your Work Receives Automatic Protection

Artistic creations, whether in the United States or Canada, are automatically endowed with copyright protection from the moment of their creation [1]. There is no obligation to affix a copyright notice, and registration with the copyright office is unnecessary. This protection extends internationally, irrespective of variances in copyright requirements abroad.

The Role of Copyright Registration

While copyright protection is inherent, registering your copyright offers concrete proof of authorship and ownership [2]. It also confers certain legal benefits, such as the ability to seek statutory damages. Though not obligatory, consider copyright registration for significant or valuable works. It may be prudent to forego registration for less costly pieces. Including a copyright notice on your work, though not legally mandated, serves as a notice to those unfamiliar with copyright law.

Copyright Implies “No Copying”

How to Find Art Collectors: A Trout Fishing Analogy
How to Find Art Collectors: A Trout Fishing Analogy



The umbrella of copyright protection unequivocally forbids the reproduction, publication, distribution, display, or performance of your work without explicit consent during the copyright’s lifespan, typically the author’s life plus 70 years [3]. Even if proper credit is given, the intent is non-profit, or alterations are made, copying remains illegal, with few exceptions, including “fair use” [4]. Note that this prohibition applies both to your work and the work of others.

Limited Exceptions: Fair Use

Fair use, known as fair dealing in Canada, permits controlled use of copyrighted materials without consent or compensation [4]. Permissible applications include criticism, commentary, parody, news reporting, teaching, and research, with usage kept to a minimum and without undermining the original work’s market presence. Navigating fair use law can be complex and subjective, necessitating legal guidance before assuming an instance qualifies.

Detecting Copyright Infringement

Given the visibility of artistic works, especially online, the risk of infringement is ever-present. Employ these strategies to promptly detect and mitigate potential harm:

How to Find Art Collectors: A Trout Fishing Analogy
How to Find Art Collectors: A Trout Fishing Analogy



  • Engage friends, family, and colleagues as vigilant monitors, promptly notifying you of any observed copies. Those copying your work often maintain indirect connections to your network.
  • Use online search tools, such as Google Image Search or, to search for copies of your images. Search for a good sampling of your work (6 or 8 of your most popular images), and repeat your searches on a regular basis.

Responding to Copyright Infringement

Upon identifying unauthorized copies of your work, consider various courses of action:

  • In cases where copying aligns with “fair use” or involves minimal, credited use, choosing not to take action is an option. Alternatively, you may issue a courteous request for permission in future instances.
  • If the situation demands it, dispatch a cease-and-desist or demand letter to request removal, destruction, or compensation for existing copies. Numerous templates for such letters are available online. For substantial financial implications, consult an attorney to draft and send the letter.
  • When unauthorized copies appear on the internet, you can submit a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown request, a recourse available under U.S. law [6]. This enables contact with the web hosting provider to request removal, and international internet companies often comply. Identifying the hosting company and locating their contact information is essential for initiating a DMCA request.
  • In cases where the recipient of a demand letter does not comply, substantial financial interests are at stake, or your art business suffers harm, legal action may be warranted. Seek counsel from a lawyer specializing in copyright, intellectual property, or internet law. Local bar associations and organizations like Lawyers for the Arts can provide referrals and support within your region.


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  • Registering your work for copyright enables you to file suite, but register before you publish. You can register a collection of work (with some stipulations) for a one time fee of $55.
    Also, is a great new site for tracing all of your images currently online. They also work pro bono should you need to go after anyone.

  • Thank you Barney, Robert, and Jeni for publishing such a useful post. I personally find such legalities BORING! But this brief post makes me feel better equipped to understand it since you have brought it down to a lay level (where even I can get the main nuggets).

  • Moral copyright is also an important issue for folks to understand. So many don’t. Can you offer some advice here too?

    • Wikipedia has a nice outline of moral copyright. There are some new laws being looked at regarding the rights of the original artist when the works are sold, but it’s a gray area for sure. Art Law Journal did a piece on this subject recently as well.

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