Intellectual Property Law

Do I Need to Copyright All My Artistic Work Individually?

In our artist copyright guide, we'll take a look at the different factors you should consider when deciding whether or not to register your artwork's copyrights.

So you are an artist who is continuously creating work. Whether you create for your own personal brand or create for other companies or brands you are in partnership with, at one point or another, you may have considered whether you should formally register your copyrights. But how do you decide which works to register and which to leave be? In our artist copyright guide, we’ll take a look at the different factors you should consider when deciding whether or not to register your artwork’s copyrights. 

Automatic Copyright Protections

As an artist, whenever you create an original piece of work in a “fixed form” meaning it is created as a painting, sculpture, or in any other tangible form, then your copyright protections automatically go into place for that work. Your copyright protections mean that you are the sole owner of that artwork and that your artwork cannot be used without your permission. 

Although your copyright protections exist automatically once you’ve compiled your work in a fixed form, registration of your copyright does not. If someone ends up violating your copyrights and you want to pursue legal action against them, then your copyright needs to be registered before you do so. Unlike the automatic copyright protection that goes into place once your work is in a fixed form, a copyright registration only goes into effect once you have registered your copyright, or your original work, with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration is a rather simple and easy process and can be done digitally or by mail.

How to Register a Copyright

Registering your copyright is pretty easy and straightforward. To start the process, you need to visit the Copyright Office to fill out an application. There is a “Standard Application” that allows you to register one work. If you have a collection of works, you will want to use the “Group of Unpublished Works” application. This will allow you to register up to 10 unpublished works on one application. 

Depending on the type of fixed work you want to register, whether is a song or album, blog entry, or artwork, there are different processes on how you should submit the application and whether additional information is needed. For example, when you are registering your artwork, you will need to include a copy of the artwork that you are registering along in your application. The Copyright Office website can walk you through the process of how to register your specific copyrights. 

Do I Need to Copyright all my Artistic Work?

It depends. If you are an artist who is continuously creating artwork, you need to ask yourself several questions that will help you decide whether or not you should seek registered copyright protections. Not everything you create needs to be copyrighted especially if you are continuously creating work. Consider the following questions as to whether you should register your copyright: 

  • What type of artwork am I creating? 
  • What is the medium my artwork is created in? 
  • What could this artwork possibly be used for besides my own personal uses? 
  • Would another person want to reuse my artwork for a certain market or industry? 
  • Is my artwork contemporary and trending, or is it too unique in its characteristics and design that others wouldn’t want to repurpose it?

Abstract Artwork 

Abstract artwork means different things for different artists. However, in a general sense, if your artwork typically takes on an abstract form then it may be less susceptible to copyright infringement. You have to consider your own artwork and decide whether or not your artwork could be something that another individual might want to use in a capacity of their own. For example, think about whether or not your artwork would be something someone would want to put on a product that they sell or make a profit off of it otherwise. If you feel like your abstract art is susceptible to being used by other artists for profitable means, then you may want to register that particular piece of art. 

Does Your Artwork Have a Mass or Commercial Appeal?

Other artists who may create works that are more consistent with modern and contemporary designs will also need to consider whether or not their artwork is susceptible to copyright infringement. This means you will need to consider the social climate in the marketing world and what designs are trending. If you are an artist that uses topography and designs that are simplistic in nature and can easily be adapted onto different products including T-shirts, mugs, or other goods that can be sold, then you may want to register the copyrights for additional protection.

Advantages of Copyrighting Your Artwork 

There are many advantages to registering your copyrights. Some are more beneficial than others, but all benefits give you additional protection when it comes to protecting your work. 

The main advantage of register your copyright is if someone does infringe on your copyrights, you can pursue legal action and the legal action can yield more benefit for you. Let’s say you have created a piece of art and your copyrights were infringed upon because someone took your art and used it on a product they were selling. If your copyright was not registered at the time of the infringement, you would need to register it within a three month window in order to seek out statutory damages. 

Statutory damages would allow you to collect on profits that were made on that product that had your artwork on it. Statutory damages range anywhere from $300 to $700 per work infringed upon, but they can go up to no more than $150,000 per work. In addition to the statutory damages, an individual can seek out attorneys’ fees as well. Without the registration, only actual damages can be provided. 

Registering your copyright also makes it much easier for you to prove that you are the owner of the work. This in turn can mean a quicker litigation process for you.


Deciding whether or not you should register your copyright really depends on who you are as an artist, whether or not your artwork is likely to be copyrighted, and how susceptible you are to copyright infringement based on your brand, your audience, and the potential ways your work can be used by others without your permission. Copyrighting can be expensive, especially if you are copyrighting multiple different works, so it’s important to move thoughtfully through the process as you consider which works should be formally protected and which should not. 


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