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Copyright Law

© Watermark: A Tool to Protect Your Work Under the DMCA

Posted by Rebecca Blake on June 29, 2016

Think putting a watermark with your name and copyright symbol detracts from your illustration? You may want to reconsider doing without it. In “CMI and the DMCA,” attorney Leslie Burns explains how including such information, called Copyright Management Information, gives you an additional, powerful tool to protect your copyrights online.

“Copyright Management Information” is defined by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act as “information conveyed in connection with” copies, displays, phonorecords, or performances of a work. The information is broadly defined, and can include the name of the work, the name of the author or copyright holder, identifying numbers or symbols, etc. That means a simple “© 2016 Your Name” inserted into the corner of your illustration or design qualifies as CMI.

As Burns elucidates, including your watermark on your image confers two tools you can use in addressing infringement. First, according to the DMCA, if an infringer removes your © watermark and reposts your image, the infringer has committed one to two violations of the law – each carrying statutory damages of at least $2,500 – whether or not you registered the work. Additionally, the removal of your watermark shows that the infringement was willful. That means if you did register your work, the statutory damages could go up to $150,000. (The minimum stays at $750.) It goes without saying that you should register the copyrights on any work you publish online!

Burns states that the notice needn’t be large – just legible – and recommends that the notice include the copyright symbol ©, the year of publication, and your name. She also points out that including the CMI increases the chance for damages to be awarded  – which would make a lawyer far more inclined to take the case on a contingency basis.

Leslie Burns is a California-based lawyer specializing in copyrights, contracts, and business law. Her background makes her a unique advocate for visual artists – for years, she was the studio and marketing manager for photo illustrator Stephen Webster. Her articles are both entertaining and informative; her article “More Monkey Business” (published on her Burns Auto Parts blog) was one of the most amusing takes on the monkey selfie dispute in 2014.

Below: Burns' copyright notice on her photograph (snapped while in law school) isn't large, but clearly imparts her information. (Used with permission.)

Life as a Law Student, photo © Leslie Burns

Questions about Copyright Registration? Answers from the Copyright Office!

Posted by Rebecca Blake on May 10, 2016

Copyright Q&AEarlier this year, the Copyright Alliance solicited questions from creators on the copyright registration process. They’ve launched a Copyright Q&A column to roll out the questions and answers. Even better, the answers have come from the most reliable source you could hope for: Rob Kasunic, Director of Registration Policy and Practices at the Copyright Office. The column covers a decent range of questions, from basic requests on which procedures to follow to expedite a registration, to more targeted questions on public domain images, derivative works, and specific terminology. 

The column is well worth scanning. It not only provides practical advice on the application process, it also corrects some common misunderstandings. For example, more than one question asked whether works registered as a group would be entitled to separate statutory damages. Kausic clarifies that the Copyright Office’s position is that only derivative works and compilations should be limited to one award of statutory damages; works otherwise registered as a group would be entitled to separate awards (a boon for prolific visual artists).
Other Q&As germane to illustrators cover works which incorporate public domain images, how much an image must be altered to be considered a derivative work, and what constitutes a publication date. (Here’s a hint: posting to Facebook does not count as a publication.) To read through the Copyright Q&A, visit the Alliance’s blog.

Animations Educate on Copyright Ownership and Registration

Posted by Rebecca Blake on March 28, 2016

Guild member and illustrator/animator Mark Monlux has given us permission to post two animations he created covering copyright basics. Copyright & You — Defining Copyright Ownership teaches that artists who sell their original paintings do not transfer the copyrights to those paintings, and encourage artists to provide provenance in writing. The second animation, Copyright and You – Having vs Registering, outlines the additional legal protection registering copyrights affords creators. Both animations have been posted with full transcripts to our Tools and Resources pages.

The cartoons use Monlux’s whiteboard animation technique, which he employs for organizational and corporate clients (in addition to his advertising and editorial illustration, and sketchnoting). They were created as a public service announcement in collaboration with the Tacoma Artists Intitiative Program. Monlux served many years on the Guild's Executive Committee, and is recognized for his knowledge of copyright law and good trade practices for illustrators.

Below: screenshots from “Defining Copyright Ownership” (left), and “Having vs. Registering.”
© Mark Monlux.

© Mark Monlux screenshot from Defining Copyright Ownership© Mark Monlux screenshot from Having vs. Registering

Katie Lane’s Low-down on Work-for-Hire versus Assigning Your Copyrights

Posted by Rebecca Blake on March 21, 2016

Katie Lane illustrationAttorney Katie Lane recently addressed a question she often hears from her creative clients: what’s the difference between work-for-hire and assigning copyrights? Work-for-hire is a term which is frequently misunderstood, and confused with an all-rights buyout. Lane explains that a work-for-hire agreement means the client owns the copyright to whatever the artist creates: “From the very moment the thing is created, it’s owned by the client or your employer.” In contrast, when an artist assigns the copyright, the artist owns the copyright, and is selling that copyright to the client.

Lane further explains that for a work to qualify as work-for-hire, it has to either be created by an employee within the scope of that individual’s job (in which case the copyright belongs to the employer or firm), or it must meet one of nine categories, such as contributing to a collective work. Lane also points out that the agreement between the artist and client must stipulate that the work is work-for-hire.

Lane concludes by cautioning artists on the real limits work-for-hire agreements place on artists, such as prohibiting them from displaying the work in their portfolios. If a contract stipulates a project is work-for-hire, and the artist thinks it may not meet one of the nine qualifications, Lane’s advice is to negotiate before signing to see if the terms can be changed to assigning copyrights.

Lane’s full article, Work for Hire or Copyright Assignment?, can be read on her blog. The Work Made for Hire blog features articles written from a legal perspective for creatives, and includes tips on negotiating, reading contracts, and a comprehensive article on orphan works.

Illustration of Katie Lane © Dylan Meconis 2016. Used with permission.

Vox Indie on Google’s Roadblocks to the DMCA Takedown Process

Posted by Rebecca Blake on March 15, 2016

Independent filmmaker Ellen Siedler has long been criticizing Google for its anemic efforts in combating piracy. In one of her recent posts on her blog, Vox Indie, she explored the process Google employs for those wishing to report copyright infringement via Google’s DMCA takedown notice (“Why does Google make it so damn difficult to send a DMCA notice?”). The results were astounding: instead of a simple contact form or link, as is provided by websites such as Vimeo, Google provides a baffling nine-step report process. Siedler charted her findings in an infographic she titled “Google’s DMCA Takedown Maze.”

Siedler’s conclusion is that Google is willfully making the takedown process combursome. She summarized her findings (quoted from her article):

“Google doesn’t provide the email address of its designated DMCA agent (as required by law).

Google requires users to send takedown requests via online forms.

Google makes finding the correct form a laborious 9 step process.

Once the correct form is found, Google requires DMCA senders to login to a Google account.

Google doesn’t provide clear URL on pirated files forcing rights holders to drill down further into the abyss to find the correct URL to report the pirated file.”

Below: Siedler’s infographic charts Google’s DMCA Takedown process.
© Ellen Siedler. Used with permission.

© Ellen Siedler Google’d  DMCA Takedown Maze infographic

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