When do I add the ™, ®, or © ?
August 7, 2016 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Original artwork I post daily online is starting to get more and more attention. What do I need to do to protect my work? What steps have you taken to protect your own work?

My website (which I won't self-link here, though please DM me if you'd like a link) is a project where I post an original artwork once a day. They are all meditations on a theme, and while the theme and what I'm depicting isn't original, I think the project itself is and should probably be protected. Here are some details:

Each piece is made by hand and then photographed and uploaded. I am in possession of all the original works; what is online are only photographs. I upload each of them using my iPhone via Tumblr (which is were my URL directs) and also share them via Twitter and Instagram at the same time. I do not mention my name in any way on the site (I'm trying to keep it as anonymous as possible) and I do not sign the artworks, either.

I'm not worried so much about the artwork being stolen or misappropriated as I am protecting myself if someone tries to copy the idea. I really don't want to sign or watermark everything, especially because I have 500+ posts that would need to be re-uploaded with a watermark (plus I think that watermarks look tacky.) Should I copy write or trademark the name of the project? How exactly do I go about doing that? I want to continue this project for as long as I can and I don't want to be taken advantage of down the line. Any insight you can give me will be very much appreciated.

Thank you for your help!
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't want anyone to use the name of your project (or similar name), you trademark the name. It will only apply to specific fields you choose when submitting the trademark request. As for stopping others from creating similar or "inspired" content, I am doubtful that it is possible.
posted by frantumaglia at 10:14 AM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

YOu have to register to have a trademark. (That gets you the R or TM). Your work is automatically copyrighted, whether you put the (c) on it or not, but you can put the (c) on it if you like.

If you don't want people stealing you work, use a large watermark on a key part of the image.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:24 AM on August 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When you register a trademark, you have to provide some evidence that the mark that you're registering is something that you're already using in commerce. When you claim trademark protection, you're basically saying you have customers who recognize you by the mark you're protecting, who would be confused if somebody else were to start using a similar mark.

Copyright protects specific works you've made. The idea behind them may or may not be something you can claim ownership of. You own your painting of a bowl of fruit, but not the idea of making paintings of bowls of fruit.

You can register existing works with the copyright office. If they're part of a series, you can register a bunch of works together, and it doesn't cost that much--thirty-five bucks per registration, or something like that. This just means that the copyright office has a record of your claim to have created whatever you sent them on a certain date. If you found out that somebody was, for instance, making money by selling an image you'd created, and you wanted to stop them, you would probably have to pay a lawyer and bring legal action against them. In a case like that, it could help you to have officially registered your work, but the registration in itself doesn't automatically protect you.

(IANAL, IA a professional artist who's copyright-registered and trademarked stuff, but never had to deal with any disputes. I defer to anybody who knows more about this stuff than I do, which would not be hard.)
posted by Sing Or Swim at 10:26 AM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

If your artworks are digital, don't upload original quality. You may need to prove you were the original creator.
posted by gorcha at 10:57 AM on August 7, 2016

Best answer: Sorry, but you gotta watermark. I hesitated to watermark my work for years because of an aesthetic aversion to it, but I could have saved myself so much grief. It's all fun and games until ebay sellers are putting your stuff on clothing. It can be as simple as your initials in a nice font, and you just have to overlay the mark on part of the drawing, not in the center. It can be very faint but it needs to be there, and would solve a lot of issues should image theft occur.

Also, sign your art. Practice and find a signature that works with your style, but you gotta do it if you're posting publicly or ever planning to sell. Add the date, title and medium to the back of every one as well. You want your art to be credited to you if you should every lose a piece, move and leave some behind, or sell them.

Your work is copyrighted the moment you produce it, but if you need to defend that copyright, you'll have a much easier time if everything is signed and marked. You can register a trademark, but it's going to cost money and in my experience it didn't add any extra security more than timestamps or watermarks. Trademark also won't be a good option because you're not signing the work, so there's no mark to trademark(I highly suggest trademarking your signature eventually,though).
posted by InkDrinker at 11:24 AM on August 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: A trademark will protect the name of the project and copyright will protect the works themselves. You may use the © and ™ symbols without registering. You may use the ® symbol only with registered marks.

The benefit of registration is that it gives you evidence of ownership from the date of registration which helps greatly if you need to pursue an infringement claim. You can register online at the Copyright Office and the Patent And Trademark Office. I've used the latter, and it's somewhat intimidating the first time, but you can do it without a lawyer.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:26 AM on August 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, it's perfectly fine to put your site in your user profile and mention that it's there in an Ask.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:28 AM on August 7, 2016

Your work is copyrighted the moment you produce it, but if you need to defend that copyright, you'll have a much easier time if everything is signed and marked.
- InkDrinker

This is exactly right, and is the most important takeaway. Your work is already copyrighted (in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, 17 U.S. Code § 102 - Subject matter of copyright...), all you are doing now is 1) making it easier for people to discover it was you, and find out more about you 2) making it harder for someone else to pass it off as their own or without attribution. Find multiple ways of doing 1 and 2. InkDrinker's examples are great. You don't need to use your real name. Lots of artists have pseudonyms: feel free to adopt one of your own.
posted by troytroy at 2:50 PM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not worried so much about the artwork being stolen or misappropriated as I am protecting myself if someone tries to copy the idea

This is what people are missing.
Watermarking your pictures won't protect the idea behind the project.
posted by Omnomnom at 4:13 PM on August 7, 2016

I'm not worried so much about the artwork being stolen or misappropriated as I am protecting myself if someone tries to copy the idea.

You can't copyright an idea.

It would be illegal for me to take your artwork and re-upload it without your permission, but it wouldn't be illegal for me to make my own art based on your idea, for example.

Your best protection against this is to be the one associated with the idea. Watermarks with a pseudonym/link can help with that, but you're never really going to be able to protect your idea from being copied. And it's a good thing, too, because copying ideas is what got us stuff like Titian's Venus and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:25 PM on August 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

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