Protecting Your Art: Copyrights

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For the art world, the internet is a lot like the American frontier: full of opportunity and promise – but also a place to be wary. Today, with just a few clicks, you can share your art with a worldwide audience, meet and acquire new collectors and fans, raise money for your art projects, and make life-long friends. However, along with this convenience comes a whole new wave of dangers and drawbacks, sometimes leaving artists exposed and vulnerable.

For many artists out there, one of the greatest fears is largest looming nightmare is copyright infringementArt is your craft and your livelihood, and it is a personal investment of your time, money, effort, and soul. Moreover, it is your intellectual property, that needs to be a priority to protect. Protecting your art needs to be a priority. There are a number of ways to help you do this, and we’ve laid them out for you in a quick, simple guide.

Did You Know? If someone clicks a picture of your art and posts it on the internet without crediting you, it qualifies as an act of copyright infringement.
Did You Know? If someone clicks a picture of your art and posts it on the internet without crediting you, it qualifies as an act of copyright infringement.

Protecting Your Art Against Copyright Infringement

Antelope Canyon 3 by Jerry Anderson
Antelope Canyon 3 | Acrylic on Canvas | Jerry Anderson

“Intellectual property is a property right that can be protected under federal and state law, including copyrightable works, ideas, discoveries, and inventions. The term intellectual property relates to intangible property such as patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.” – US Legal


“Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”  – United States Copyright Office

In layman’s terms, intellectual property is your right to protect your original work while a copyright is established when an original work is created tangibly (not just conceptually). However, unregistered work can often be hard to prove as your own, which is why it is important to keep digital or physical records. If you ever need to take a case to court, think about how well you can demonstrate that you are the creator of the artwork in question. So, legally, how can you protect your art from copyright infringement?

1. Always Sign Your Name On Your Work

This is the first step in protecting your art against copyright violation. Adapt the habit of signing all your works, preferably with the year of completion.

You must always sign your artwork once it is finished. You could do it discreetly in a corner, or make you signature a part of the artwork, like Jerry Anderson does. You can also sign the back of the artwork.

2. Register Your Work

If you’re a U.S. artist, it is recommended that you officially register your artwork with the Copyright Office of the U.S. Library of Congress. Even though a copyright is automatically in place at the moment of creation, registering the work ensures you have sufficient proof that the work is yours. It also enables you to demand more money in the event of a copyright infringement suit. Here’s how the registration process works in the United States:

  • Go to the Library of Congress website and click on the electronic Copyright Office (eCO). Fill out the registration form and pay the required fee.
  • Once the registrar’s office examines your application, they will send you an official certificate of registration. This serves as documented evidence of your copyright, which will also be filed online as a matter of public record.

We recommend that you check your country’s Copyright laws after reading this article. Although Intellectual Property laws are similar throughout, there might be some nuances and differences that you should know about.

3. Keep Digital Records Of Your Work

A picture is worth a thousand words – especially if someone is claiming that your work is their own. Having a digital library of your artwork will save you a lot of hassle in the event of copyright infringement, as you can present this record in court. The great thing about photographs is that their metadata often stores the date that the pictures were taken. We have a guide for taking great photographs of your artwork, but a professional photographer can also be used to ensure that two people have evidence to support any copyright infringement cases.

Recognize The Risks 

You create a lot of art, so it’s important to focus your art copyright protection efforts where it’s going to count. For instance, if you produce art that’s more abstract or conceptual (and thus more difficult to reproduce), then your risk of copyright infringement will be substantially lower. However, if you have pieces that contain creatures or characters that could conceivably be borrowed or replicated, or if you create images that are very iconic or have high mass market appeal, then you should always protect them using the steps outlined above.

Now, those above are all great safeguards that will prepare you well if you ever need to file a claim against a copyright infringement. However, there are several easy practices to prevent the theft of your images.

Stay in touch with us! Our Newsletter is packed with inspiring stories, art tips, and Agora Gallery’s latest exhibition announcements.

Related Article: Documenting The Sale Of Your Artwork

Protecting Your Art On Your Website

There’s no doubt that posting your work online can be risky. At the same time, in this increasingly digital art world, online exposure is often critical to an artist’s success. While nothing is foolproof, there are some measures you can take to help protect your art on the web.

1. Convert Your Images to Flash

Before posting them online, you may wish to convert your images into a flash slideshow. This makes it impossible for those on the web to simply copy and paste the image. You can do this by downloading special slideshow converters or consulting a web design professional.

2. Only Publish Small, Low-Resolution Images

A small, low-resolution image simply isn’t worth stealing for most people. However, before you run off to resize all of your images to thumbnails, make sure you do not save them over your high-res images. Once you save an image as small and low-res, you cannot get that file to ever be high resolution again. For all you hold dear, save the web-ready version as a separate file.

Windows or Mac, you can use almost any image-editing software to resize images. From Photoshop to Paint, the process is universally pretty similar. You’ll usually find the “Resize” option under the “Edit” toolbar. Converting to lower resolution can be a little trickier.

3. Consider Adding Watermarks To Your Images

A watermark is a logo or name that is placed on top of an image. Watermarks credit you as the artist of your image and it is very difficult for anyone to remove/change this.

The one most used is the copyright notice, best known as the C symbol (©), plus the year the work was published, or the abbreviation Copr. You should also include the year of completion as well as your name into this watermark. It should look something like –

art copyright
This curated space image was featured on our Facebook Page, and in order to protect the image digitally created by us as well the painting of our artist, Corinne Garese, we could place a watermark to denote authorship.

Protecting Your Art On Social Media

While it’s possible for you to keep track of the number of people visiting and viewing your works on your site (and there are some good measures to protect them from being copied), once you add your images to social media there is absolutely no knowing where they will end up. However, avoiding social media altogether can be a serious disadvantage too. So, how do you protect your image? Here are some tips!

1. Read The Terms And Conditions

Do you promote your artwork on Instagram? How about other social media websites? Recently, artist Richard Prince sold a series of other peoples’ Instagram photographs and made out with around $100,000. Though this seems like an outright copyright infringement, the issue is actually in a legal gray-area. One thing we know for sure – these images would have been protected if they had been registered federally with a copyright. Whenever you are posting your artwork to other platforms, be sure to read the terms and conditions to determine what art copyright protection your art has there.

Useful Article: How To Promote Your Art On Instagram

2. Always Add A Watermark To Your Image

Just like on your website, a watermark is one of the best tools to protect your art across social media. Not only does a watermark plainly tells the viewer that your work is protected by copyright, it will also help in a court case, as the other artist won’t be able to say his or her use of your work was “innocent infringement” (meaning it was copied unknowingly).

Place your watermark conspicuously across the image. Don’t just stick it on the edge – you don’t want anyone cropping the watermark out.

It’s increasingly important, especially in our digital age, to protect your artwork from copyright infringement. Hopefully, these safeguards and practices will ensure that your intellectual property remains your own.

Looking to develop your artistic career and build a presence in New York City and worldwide? Book an online career development consultation meeting today.

If you have any questions, let us know in the comments or email us at!


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80 responses to “Protecting Your Art: Copyrights”

  1. Beverly Kleiner avatar

    I think I am nearly ready to move forward and get some photos fine tuned for sales and marketing venues. I still have a lot of information to sort through but thank you especially for the simple, concise explanation of what to do to protect my stuff.

    Kind Regards,
    Bev Kleiner

  2. GTC avatar

    This was very helpful, thank you

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  4. Ekrem Fetic avatar

    Hi there, What to do if a well-known website for the promotion of artists does not allow the artist to enter his portfolio?

    1. Rhanna Almerol avatar

      Hi Ekrem! Thank you for getting in touch with us. The advice that we can give is to ask the Customer Support Representative of the website that you are referring to regarding the issue.

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  11. Aljoheri avatar

    You can write a metadata inside image, EXIF data, with copyright notice and contact details, I remember Facebook was reading the metadata automatically and making a description from it.

  12. Tammy Patrick avatar

    Do I have to register each piece of art seperately? I found that the fee schedule was confusing and not sure which category to pick. It all seems like literature. please help! thank you

  13. Clyde Rogers avatar

    I wanna know how to go about copyrighting my logo

  14. David Ramirez avatar

    Besides the name , what do I put on the back of my painting ? Is putting myself in the picture with the painting and putting my hand or fingers in front of the painting assure that it is my work and can not be copied?

  15. Londa avatar

    Thank you. This discussion was helpful. I design greeting cards for charity. I do not want to get paid, but I also do not want someone else to take my work and use it for a fee.

  16. Richard Wright avatar

    A very good friend of mine just passed away.
    He gave me two of his original art works that he completed within the last year.
    These art works have never been published and very few people have seen them.
    I would like to sell posters of them on the internet and also sell the originals to a person.
    I am going to copyright them but should I copyright it under my name or the company name I just created?

  17. Mark Briscoe avatar

    Do artists own reproduction rights to their paintings universally or does this article apply to US law only? Thanks

  18. Robert Carlsen avatar

    I digitally manipulate my own photographs, can these works be grouped and copyrighted as photographs or must they be copyrighted as art works?

  19. gil badiccini avatar

    Does western countries and my country can give us the artists copyrights for open source project in web platforms.
    Digital world can be too massive to understand. and what about making actual living out of it ?!

  20. Angel avatar

    Hi I make collage art with post stamps I know post stamps are copyright Can I make prints of my art with my copyright.

    1. Andra Bilici avatar

      Hi Angel,

      You should refer to a local copyright authority because local legislation might apply.

  21. Angel avatar

    Helo i have a question I like to make collage art but in my art work I use old post stamps. I know that post stamps are copyright can i use them an in my art and copyright my art work and make prints

  22. Ilana Harounian Namvar avatar

    I am an artist in los angeles. I like to sell gicles of my work and I need info how to copyrite them first.

    1. Andra Bilici avatar

      Hi Ilana,

      Are the giclee you produce copies of your works of other famous works?

  23. Angel avatar

    Question I know that every post stamp is a copyright image what I do is a collage art with them , cutting and glue then over mixed media art paper can i copyright my art . I would like to make prints of it in canvas .

    1. Andra Bilici avatar

      Hi Angel,

      You may refer to a local authority that supervises the copyright matters, but probably once the stamps are part of an actual artwork, they have a different copyright regulation.

  24. SEAN avatar


    1. Andra Bilici avatar

      Hi Sean,

      Your friend should contact a specialized authority for the authentification of the artwork. Good luck!

  25. David avatar

    I acquired slides and 8mm video from the 1920, to 1960’s. They were from someone my mom worked for that passed in the 60’s. The slides were in a basement that had water damage, and were given to my mom and then given to me. I wanted to make use of the slides, print and sell but not sure of my rights with them.

    Thank you

    1. Andra Bilici avatar

      Hi David!

      Do you have a proof of acquiring these slides?

      1. David avatar

        Hi Andra, nothing in writing. I think the slides were going to be thrown away from water damage on some. My mom worked quite a few years for them. They have both passed and had no children.


  26. James Emirzian Waldementer avatar

    I’ve been creating those my many artist then I have now claimed and copyright owned by me, Protecting those properly from my artist libraries. If believe this people shouldn’t giving the credited by me or not. I was looking to see good info about Protecting my copyright art stuff.

  27. Carlos Olivares avatar

    Registering copyrights to art I’ve created and published 25 years ago, should I use the time they were created, or the current date?

    1. Andra Bilici avatar

      Hi Carlos,
      You should use the date when the artwork was created.

  28. Amy Roberts avatar

    If I’m paying a business to photograph or scan my paintings and I want to offer prints for sale on a print on demand site can I copyright the image or not?

    1. Andra Bilici avatar

      Hi Amy! Since they are limited edition prints, you should copyright them.

  29. Brittany avatar


    Does copyrighting the art in question extend beyond paintings etc? If I have a certain style of art that I’d like to copyright, can it be anything whether it is a sculpture, metal, paint, collage etc? Also, if it is copies of the same type of “art” or “craft” to be selling, do I file and copyright each one individually or does copyrighting one cover all the bases as long as it has the same colors and features etc? Thanks!!

    1. Andra Bilici avatar

      Hi Brittany, copyright should protect an artwork from being duplicated by an unofficial source, so a certain style can’t be protected by copyright. Each official copy sold in limited edition should be protected by a certificate of authenticity, provided by the artist.

  30. Jade avatar

    I have a collection of orginial watercolors and legal rights to them (my grandfather) who has since passed away I have a pretty large collection.
    Would I copyright every single watercolor?

    1. Andra Bilici avatar

      Hi Jade,
      Yes, you should copyright every artwork individually.

  31. Bansi avatar


    I create colourful name frames. Each frame is slightly different as it is handmade with paper art. Can I copyright the design even though each one is always going to be slightly different. Or do I copyright the colours and Style?

    1. Daisy O Connell avatar

      Hi Bansi,

      You can copyright each one individually.

  32. Fernando Pinto avatar

    Hola buen dia , espero no importunarles mi nombre es Fernando Pinto soy de Venezuela tengo muchos años pintando y creando obras originales y me gusta la investigación artística ,trabaje como director de arte en la industria publicitaria por 25 años desde hace 20 años trabajo exclusivamente en investigación artística. me parece de mucha importancia el derecho de autor, aquí lo trate de hacerlo, hace mucho tiempo .pero no lo segi. es de vital importancia promocionarme por la WEB pero me consume mucho tiempo. Que me recomienda. estudie fotografía ademas de arte que no culmine, diseño grafico. GRACIAS POR SU COLABORACIÓN Y AYUDA! www .ferpinto,con

  33. Helen Vail avatar

    My friend works with multiply handicapped students . She helped a few of her students to make art work related the letters of the alphabet. She has taken their original work and made a large cooperative piece of all the letters of the alphabet. She would like to distribute this in poster form to libraries but before she does she would like to know how to copy rite their work. Do you have ny suggestions?

    1. Andra Bilici avatar

      Hi Helen. As long as each artwork is protected against copyright infringement, she is safe.

  34. Angie avatar

    I am an artist doing a photography and painting series for feminist empowerment. When I went to the US copyright office website, a message was displayed that they are closed due to a government funding lapse, and will reopen once the issue is fixed. I am unsure what to do in regards to promoting my artwork through social media platforms for my art show. Any advice would help!
    Thank you.

    1. Andra Bilici avatar

      Hi Angie, for the time being, you could just make sure your artwork is signed and your records are up to date. Once the authority will operate again, you can proceed with registering it.

  35. Kay avatar

    Hi, I’m just wondering if someone was to repost my art on an Instagram account clearly stating that the art was not theirs and giving me full credit, would that be copyright infringement?

    1. Andra Bilici avatar

      Hi Kay! As long as they mention the source and the artist, no, because it has been shared from a public page.

      1. MiseryX avatar

        No Andra, that would be copyright infringement. Copyright means Kay has exclusive rights to reproduce/publish their work. Crediting and mentioning the source of a work is irrelevant. They need permission/license from the copyright holder to publish it legally.

        1. lawrence avatar

          I dont think so…Which is why both Facebook and Instagram has the share button.

  36. linda avatar

    i have given an original piece of signed art to a friend. it depicted her and her passion. I have just discovered that my gift is being used as a logo for my friend’s charitable website. i did not trademark the art. do I have any say as to the use of my work or any rights to this art once its gifted?

    1. Andra Bilici avatar

      Hi Linda! The artwork was gifted, not commissioned, but despite all this, we recommend discussing with your friend and ask to be credited for the design of the logo.

  37. Adri avatar

    Very helpful article. I was curious though, as I was filing for registration on a collection of art. I never encountered a request to submit the actual art itself. I stopped right before the “pay” tab was completedoing after I realized it only asked for names and addresses.

    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Dear Adri,

      They will probably contact you later regarding the “actual art”. Good luck!

  38. Janice Lundy avatar

    Hello….I’m not sure I have a case or if anything can be done but here is my problem. My boys use to be in Scouts, during this time I designed art work for several patches for very specific events. I took on the cost of materials and time for this and the only payment was a finished set of the embroidered patches. I did this as a favor and because I wanted my kids to be proud of the patches on their uniforms for these events. As an example…..I designed several patches for the 2010 and 2013 Jamborees and many for the OA. About 3 years ago the council turned on our family and we left. Now I am finding that they are using my designs for current and future events without my permission or recognition. I have all sketches and drawings plus the original completed piece. I haven’t registered any of these items but had sent the council (at the time) digital copies to be sent out for the patches to be made. I have not designed anything new for the last 4 years. The only changes to the design may be color backgrounds or names or dates but it is clearly my overall work being reproduced. The council, and “patch traders” make a great deal of money selling and trading these patches while I receive nothing. What would be my best action to end their use of my designs? Also it would be good to note that they are a “non-profit” and my going against the council will result in further “Black Balling” from them for my family so I don’t take this lightly, Thank You.

    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Dear Janice,

      The best step to take in this situation will be to get your lawyer to draft a letter regarding the same. Make sure that it does not sound threatening, but simply aims to inform them of the copyright infringement.

      Thank you for stopping by! Do let us know how it goes and good luck!

  39. Sheila Howell avatar

    I have discovered that an online printmaking/selling service has taken an image of my painting, and has attached different titles, different artists’ names and different sold products. These images are on a social site ( who have been helpful and very cooperative) I am having no luck with said company as they just blame the social company. I have registered a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. My unique signature is on these images. Is there anything further that I can do?

    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Dear Sheila,

      We suggest you or your lawyer write to the company and let them know that if your images are not removed, you will be taking legal action, which is the next step in such a situation.

      Thank You!

  40. Kevin avatar

    Great article – wonder if you could give more detail on the question from Odell Gardner regarding copyright of signature, which I think is only allowable if the signature is unique, etc. Would the signature then cover all digital copies that include that signature? For example, if I sign an original work with a signature that is copyrighted – then that copyright also applies to the work itself?

    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Dear Kevin,

      That’s right! A registered copyright is used for that purpose only – instead of copyrighting every work individually, you just register a copyright signature and use it on all the works. Hope this helps!

      We plan to update this article soon, and will be sure to add more information on this subject. 🙂

  41. Odell Gardner avatar

    Can I just register my signature as seen on my work , in stead of trying of catalog ing every piece ?

    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Dear Odell,

      Yes, you can do that! It will save you a lot of hassle.

  42. sjaboudib avatar

    Is it helpful to indicate copyright information on the bottom of the work that is sent to the printer? I have seen this done and wondered if I should do it. IE: in the bottom right corner put my name with the copyright symbol. I’ve seen it on posters, maybe wouldn’t want it on printed art to frame.

    1. Agora Experts avatar


      The copyright symbol is actually used for images/works that have been officially registered. However, it is not uncommon for artists to use it to protect their works, in fact, it is quite a secure way to do so. You can do it if you wish to.

      Hope this helps.

  43. Rissa avatar

    This was really useful, thank you! As someone who has done favors for a few people (art for free) I’ve been looking into being a freelance artist. I’m really wary of putting my work up on art sites, because my biggest fear is having someone steal my work and take credit for it. The internet is great for promoting yourself, especially when you just start your career as an artist. What is the best way to go about setting up a contract and a method of payment? I don’t want to get screwed over.

    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Hi Rissa, you might find the Documenting the Sale of Your Artwork article useful. Take a look

  44. Evelyn Joe avatar

    Thank you so mych fie the information it is sk helpful

  45. Brittany W avatar

    Hi! Great guide and thanks! This cleared up a lot of questions i had before i read this. I do have one aditional one. If I register to copyright my work. Is it necessary to have the name of my business trademarked? It will be signed on everything i do as a watermarked as explained above.

    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Hi Brittany,

      No, it is not necessary to have your business trademarked, However, you should check in with your local copyright laws just to make sure.

      Hope this helps!

  46. Arthur avatar

    I am interested in how to protect copyrights of my artwork which file is sent to a print shop for print it out.
    Is there any effective way to keep track of this given file?


    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Dear Arthur, unfortunately, we’re not aware of any effective ways of keeping track of an electronically sent file. Once you send your file over the email, it’s gone.
      With that said, you could probably ask the print shop to destroy it after they’re done printing the images. We’ve also heard that there are ways to make digital information available only for a certain amount of time, like 24 hrs, for example. But this is not our area of expertise and we would advise you to consult with a developer.
      Hope this helps!

  47. Yilva Kalmanson avatar

    The most clear and easy to follow advice for new artists. Thanks

  48. yilva kalmanson avatar

    Great tutorial and very useful information. Thanks

  49. Hayley Bowen avatar

    Thank you! Some great advice here!

    1. AgoraExperts avatar

      Thank you! We’re always glad to be of assistance.

      Be sure to let us know if there are any guides you’d like to see in the future!

  50. Charlotte Shroyer avatar

    Your info re:protection of art works is one of the most comprehensive and easily understood that I have read. Thank you for all this valuable information.

    1. AgoraExperts avatar

      Hi, Charlotte! We’re so glad that we were able to help. Let us know if there are any other guides you’d like to see in the future!