December 2007 Vol. 12 Issue 4
Even if you don’t see a notice, copyrights still apply

You’ve just finished writing your latest novel. Now you need artwork for the cover. But you are a novelist and hate to put out the money to hire an artist or designer.

Just then, you remember purchasing a great painting at the local art fair last summer. You own it and think it would look great on the cover of your book. So, just take a photo of it and you’re all set to use it on the cover, right?

Well, not quite.

Although you own the painting and may display it wherever you wish, you may not reproduce the painting and distribute it. That’s a copyright infringement.

A copyright protects original works of “authorship” to artists under federal law. Once the work is “fixed in a tangible form of expression” it is protected under copyright law — whether it comes with a copyright notice or not.

This applies to more than just paintings or other fine art. It applies to many other works, including photographs. So, you can’t just download and use a photo from the Internet without the photographer’s permission (even if you credit the photographer) because that would be a copyright infringement.

The copyright grants the artist the exclusive rights to:

  • Reproduce the work
  • Prepare derivative work
  • Distribute copies of the work for sale or rental
  • Display the copyrighted work publicly

The artist owns the copyright, not the current owner of the artwork. So placing that artist’s painting on your novel is out of the question — and so is using a photographer’s pictures without permission. An important exception to copyright ownership is if the piece is produced by an employee “for hire.” In such cases, employers own the copyrights.

The copyright is protected for the life of the artist plus 50 years.

A good practice is to place copyright notices on your work (although they aren’t required). The standard notice includes the copyright symbol, year, and artist’s name:

©2007 Phil Goode

For more about copyrights, visit:

Dan Annarino, annarino@purdue.edu

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