Despite living in a world that is more and more visual and relies more and more on artists, photographers and designer's work, the concept of copyrights is still a topic that many do not fully understand or think doesn't apply to them, or can be bended with ease, which has lead to many myths about them still persisting. Chances are that if you are over a certain age like yours truely, you saw the birth of VHS tapes, and later DVDs. These always came with a disclaimer at the beginning that nobody read, but really was the first copyrights disclaimer you probably been exposed to. The one that said you were not allowed to reproduce the content of the tape, redistribute it, or even play that tape to a wide audience. Things haven't changed at all regarding intellectual property and copyrights, yet, people still don't have a good grasp of what it means, and what is allowed and not allowed to do. As an artist who's been victim of art theft more than once, I wished people would be a lot more educated about it and stop spreading the same old boring myths about the very notion of copyrights. Here are eight of them I'm debunking for you today.
You need to apply for a copyright certificate license in order for your work to really be copyrighted.
Copyrights aren't the same as applying for a patent, an artist, musician or author's work is considered an intellectual property and it's copyrighted by default the instant the work is created. This is why in the past (and probably still to this day) photographers, and writers used to mail themselves the negatives or the original manuscript by post and kept it in a sealed envelope with the postage date acting as the date of first publication. They did so BEFORE sending the work to any publishing house. Why? Because in the case of a court trial, whoever is in procession of the work with the earliest date on it, is going to be the original rights holder. In the digital world, the timestamp appear when you first save your file, and also when you publish it anywhere on the internet, replacing the postage stamp proof. Creators do not have to apply for any certificates to copyright their work, so assume everything you find online is copyrighted unless specifically stated otherwise.
If i use a picture or artwork another artist created and change the colors it no longer is copyrighted to them and I can sell that work.
NOPE! Changing the colors or anything about someone else's artwork or photo only creates what we call a DERIVATIVE, and derivative work is still the property of the original author. They have the right to decide who is authorised to create derivative work and profit from it and they are still entitled to demand their share of that profit. Imagine this scenario in term of physical property if you struggle to see the logic above : You see a bicycle in the street you really love, so you take it home, spray paint it pink and add ribbons to it. It doesn't stop the fact you stole it and the new paint job doesn't make it your own. Same thing with art!
fan art is 100% my work so i can't be sued for copyrights infringement.
No, it's not 100% your work, even if the whole drawing/painting is yours, the characters belong to the original author, and in many cases are also trademarked (different from copyrights), which means the rights remains with the authors, and owners of the franchise. Fan art counts as a kind of derivative work, this means you should apply for a license to create and sell that type of fan art directly with the owners of the right. Usually you will need to provide some sample work and they will decide if they want that kind of work to be associated with them and commercialised. There are many artists that got caught selling fan art on sites like Etsy, Society6 and Redbubble without having the rights to do so. Marvel/Disney has an army of lawyers on their payroll to serve copyrights infringement notices, so it you are selling fan art without the license to do so, you are taking a HUGE risk.
if caught i can always claim "fair use" and get away with it
Fair use! The mythical "get out of jail free" card of the creative world! if it were that easy! First fair use is a US legal doctrine so applying it outside of the US might not work. Then it only applies to very specific situations and is always debated in court and is pronounced by a judge. There is absolutely ZERO guarantee that your intellectual property theft will be covered by fair use. What can possibly fall under fair use is parody work of an original, using the original IP as part of an educational manual or text and in the context of research. But again, it can and will be contested in court and the "fair use ruling" comes from a judge.
everything on the internet is free to use
This myth also has a little brother : "But I found it on Google image search!"
Nothing on the internet is free unless stated otherwise, so you can just google an image, take it and decide you can use it as you please and profit from it. Google is a search engine, it crawls and index URLs of pictures and will pop them in a search if the keywords you input matches the keywords associated to that picture. The URL where it appears isn't even a proof of ownership sadly, I had several of my former's blog picture stolen and used on other people's websites. In the case of social medias like Facebook and Instagram, the content belongs to the creator again, despite the popular and quite wrong belief, Facebook/Meta does not own the material posted on their platforms, and if prompted, can remove infringing content and ban repeat offenders.
creative commons and public domains are the same thing
Though there are similarities, they aren't the same thing at all and there are different type of creative commons to begin with. Creative commons is a license deal in which the author of the work agrees to make it available for other to use for free under specific terms. The owner still owns the rights to the intellectual property, and nobody can claim exclusivity over that content. Usually creative commons like stock photos are free to use at personal and commercial ends but they are not free of clauses, and you must always read the fine prints, sometimes attribution to the original author is required and sometimes commercial use is restricted to some uses. Want to know more about Creative Commons? This website lists all the different types.
Public domain means the copyrights on the intellectual property expired, this usually happens about 70 years after the author/artist's death. Longer or shorter depending the country. This means that for example the work of Picasso despite being around 100 years old is still NOT in the public domain because Picasso passed away in 1973, it's been 49 years so far, so his work is not due to go into the public domain for another 21 years. The Mona Lisa is in the public domain and you can use her at commercial ends and do all the derivative work you want on her, because Da Vinci died in 1519, but there might still be restrictions in place as to how you can commercially profit from creating art prints for example. The Louvre museum might have the exclusive rights to sell reproductions on certain support out of their gift shop, so always make sure you are not infringing on those rights
Exclusive rights means I own the work I bought those right for
Exlcusive rights isn't the same as giving up all rights to an intellectual property, so if the artist gave the exclusive rights to a company, or individual over a piece, it usually means that under specific terms, the licensee enjoys exclusivity to commercialise it...kewords : UNDER SPECIFIC TERMS. This means that in an exclusive contract, the ownership to the work is still with the artist, and they are granting you a specific license to use said work under very specific condition, and usually for a limited duration. Those terms are always included into a contract that binds both parties. For example, the artist might give you the exclusive right to sell their work on a coffee mug or cushion cover for a duration of 5 years. During that time, the artist can't sell coffee mugs or cushion with the exact same design elsewhere or license it to other parties to be sold on coffee mugs on cushions. But they are free to license it to another licensee to sell as bedsheets and art prints. If you obtained the exclusive rights for coffee mugs, you can't sell it as an art print without negotiating another contract with the artist. In an exclusive or non-exclusive rights contract for that matter, the licensee also usually owe royalties on each pieces sold for the duration of the contract, because again, the artist still OWNS the work.
I commissioned an art piece so it means I own all rights to it
No you don't, unless you specifically asked for the work to belong entirely to you and the artist to release ownership to you. When you commission a piece, you need to be specific about what you will use it for and if you want FULL ownership, you need to request it and have it put in a contract in written form. Know that your asking for ownership of the intellectual property rights will come at a price, because in letting those rights go, the artist agrees to let go of all rights to further profit from said piece. Similarly, when you buy an original painting, you only get the right to hang it in your home or office, and the right to resell it if you don't want it anymore. It doesn't give you the right to create art prints and sell them. The only person authorised to do so is the artist, unless they sold the reproduction rights to someone or sold the property rights (two different things).
Copyright laws applie to any creative work, analog or digital, so always make sure you check the fine prints of everything if you plan on using something you didn't create yourself. We artist spend hours creating work, and we don't take lightly to someone stealing it and profiting from said work in our place. Just take the time to contact us to ask us what our terms are, if we are open to licensing the work, or open to work on a commission, state your terms clearly, and in the end if you can't agree to the price or terms of a contract, just move on, don't go behind an artist's back and steal their work anyway.