Obtaining a copyright for digital artwork is a fairly easy venture, but it could be expensive to copyright a lot of pictures. The copyright for digital pictures gives the owner, or the photographer, the exclusive rights to post, display or sell their pictures. However, any non-profit, school or charity can use those pictures with impunity, no matter the format or extent of your copyright, under fair play rules. The stipulation is that they make no profits from the use of your digital artwork.
One of the first things to consider when applying electronically for a copyright on your digital artwork is the cost, which could be well over $300 per picture. And that is for a basic copyright with no research or other acts by the Copyright Office involved. Any actions taken beyond the basic electronically transferred copyright application by the Copyright Office can be extremely expensive. And when a lot of research and photocopying gets involved, the cost of a copyright for digital artwork can skyrocket.
In order to copyright digital artwork, you will need to get a Visual Arts (VA) registration form, either from the US Copyright Office’s website, or through the mail. Send one copy for any unpublished digital pictures, and two copies of any published digital pictures with your filled in VA registration form to the Copyright Office. Or, you can use the “poor man’s copyright”, which may not stand up in a court of law.
The poor man’s copyright consists of mailing your works, or a tangible copy of your works, along with a written description of your works to yourself, your lawyer (recommended), a trusted family member, or a notoriety, like a judge, police officer, city councillor, etc. Once received, the envelope containing your works, or copies thereof, should not be opened. The postal mark will become the date of issuance of the copyright.
However, the poor man’s copyright can be beaten in a civil court by someone who knows what they are doing (or who has a lawyer who does). The cost of a proper copyright, through the Copyright Office, can be more than worth it if someone profits from stealing your work(s). Without them behind you, you would need a lawyer trained in copyright law, and if you lose the case, you would be responsible for court costs as well as your thief’s legal team’s fees.
Write protected. Write informed.