Art Copyright – Who Retains the Rights?

Art Copyright is the right to copy or reproduce an artwork and consequently sell, exhibit, etc. If you are an artist who has created an original work of art (it could be a drawing, an oil painting, a photograph, a digital art file, etc.), you own the copyright of your creation.

copyright image wiki

A common misconception or confusion of who owns the rights to original artwork is found with artists and collectors alike! Sometimes artists sell their originals to collectors and think that they can not reproduce the sold artwork because some one else owns it now. On the other hand collectors often are under impression that they can go ahead and reproduce the paintings they own and sell the prints online.

Copyright theif

According to the Copyright Law, the ownership of an original painting, or any other work alone does not give the owner the right to reproduce. When the artwork is sold the artist loses the ownership of the original artwork but still keeps the ownership of the copyright image.

According to section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act., as a copyright holder, you can do the following:
– reproduce your work, for example as a Giclee;
– create derivative works based upon original work;
– sell your prints, or license your image files;
– sell your copyright to a publisher or share it with the publisher or another artist;
– display the originals and prints publicly

So this means an artist can sell licensing on your image all they want too – because they retain the copyright. The artist should NEVER sell their copyright so they can be the keeper of the image.

When selling a painting, I still think it is a very good idea to inform your buyer that you intend to make copies of the art you sold him at time of purchase. I can see some people getting extremely upset with the scenario if they thought they would be the only one to ever own the image and it ended up on a cereal box (Oh I hope not).

Mono on Cherrios

If the artists intention is too reproduce art or a portion of the image at sometime it is a good faith to disclose regardless if it never happens. A simple statement in provenance or receipt can cover this. Some collectors LOVE to know the image will be on everything but they will have the one and only original while others might not.

Art Of Toys has been giving bios and provenance with all sold artwork and are adding the statement:
Artist retains original ownership of the copyright image and rights to reproduce.

If you hire an artist for a commission and the Visual Artists Right Act will be a future blog!