A crucial part of any graphic design education is understanding copyright law. Yes, it sounds boring, but you’re an artist–and knowing how that little “c” mark works can help you protect your original stuff and protect yourself from an infringement lawsuit.
What is a copyright, anyway?
A copyright protects “original works of authorship,” meaning any literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic thing you create. Poems, movies, novels, songs, paintings–even software and architecture can be protected.
When your work is copyrighted, that means you own the rights to reproduce, create adaptations, distribute, sell, display, or perform that work. Graphic designers are usually most concerned with the rights to reproduce or adapt designs, photos, and illustrations.
So when is my work protected?
The moment you create something, it’s protected. You don’t even have to register with the U.S. Copyright Office, although doing so can help you prosecute someone if someone is infringing on your rights.
Awesome! But what about stuff I do for clients?
Well, if you work for an agency or company, you usually sign over rights to any work you produce there. Same thing for freelance clients. They’re buying the work, and the rights to it, from you, so it’s technically not yours to reproduce, sell, or display anymore.
This is confusing. Where can I learn more?
The laws are purposefully vague, so that copyright cases can be decided on an individual basis. But don’t worry. Stay tuned for more on protecting your work and using other people’s work fairly. In the meantime, take a look at the comprehensive copyright information over at Stanford’s Copyright and Fair Use Center.
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