A mere 20 years ago (and excluding any high profile art heists), artists were able to own and protect the fruits of their creativity with relative ease. In an era where the internet was in its infancy and social media did not exist, regulations and laws protecting artists’ creative works reflected the undeveloped and conventional type of creative theft which existed at the time – namely, physical art heists, or instances of artistic plagiarisation by hand.
Fast forward to 2015: creative theft has grown into a complex breed of its own, yet the regulations and laws which existed 20 years ago have not caught up. Technological advances coupled with the explosion of social media have made copying/pasting and declaring another’s artwork one’s own child’s play. The counterfeit heavyweights have progressed from being mere criminals to now being international operators within a mature illegal market. The availability of free information online, whilst providing education for many, has also armed others with knowledge to exploit loopholes in outdated laws aimed at protecting an artist from 20 years ago. This is why, short of changing the law, artists need to get smart about Intellectual Property (“IP”).
I know - IP is hardly the crowd drawer on a Friday night to get you Party Animal of the Night award. However, the power IP has in protecting artists’ careers (and therefore livehood, and life) should not be underestimated. Just as a singer needs to protect her most important asset (her voice), so should artists with their most important assets (their creativity and end products).
So what is copyright? Copyright (which covers paintings, graphic works, photographs, sculptures, collages) is a form of IP which entitles an artist to certain rights which are solely owned by that artist (amazing, right!?). An artist will be the only person able to say if, how and when his panting can be copied, sold, rented, lent or used or adapted for TV or film. It is this right which is known as ‘copyright’. Straight forward, right? Important? Abso-bloody-lutely. Artists and composers should understand their rights and enforce them when someone uses them without their permission. This is essential in ensuring that the creatives of the world protect their position and value.
So how do you get this ‘copyright’? Copyright protection is automatically given once an idea is put on paper (e.g. a painting or a musical composition). There is no legal process or registration involved (phew!), although it is good practice to put the © symbol along with your name/signature and the year of your creation somewhere. In the UK, copyright lasts for the artist’s lifetime PLUS an additional 70 years after their death (yes, copyright kicks its 99 year leasehold friend’s ass). If at any time during this protection period, someone tries to rip off, copy or use your creation without your permission, you are entitled to take that person to court (NB - as most of us don’t live in the world of Suits, in reality, taking someone to court is an expensive, complex and time consuming process, and the easier route is often to come to a settlement agreement).
At some point in this article, you may have thought: “what about the Logo for my brand – is that protected under Copyright?”. Logos and designs are in fact protected as Trademarks and are different to copyright. But, that’s for another article :)….
For further guidance and information:
Anti- Copyright in Design http://www.acid.uk.com/
DACS (not-for-profit visual artists’ rights management organisation)
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988