How to copyright your artwork

How to Protect Your Artwork Online

As an artist or photographer, you want your work to be seen. You may also be building a career and a business around your work. In pursuit of these goals, it is likely that you utilize some form of online distribution platform in order to get your work out there and garner clientele.

Unfortunately, visibility has its downside. The work you share online is vulnerable to copying and reproduction on various other mediums and platforms. This means that protecting your work may be as important as sharing it in the first place.

The good news: there are strategies to protect your work from potential infringers.

Why Registration Matters

In some instances, you can reach out to the infringing party and simply ask them to take it down. While this may stop them from using your work, it won’t provide you with compensation for any profit losses sustained from an infringer making your work available or using it for little-to-no cost.

Having a registered copyright provides many benefits.

These remedies could help cover any losses incurred from your work being used online without your permission.

The Copyright Office offers three options for registration of images:

Collection of unpublished images

Group of published images

The group registration option gives you the chance to register several works at a time, making the process of registration easier and less costly. When registering multiple works online, you must distinguish between unpublished and published works, as they can’t be registered together.

You can register your work online here.

Then, store your copyright documents along with your artwork on Artwork Archive, so you always have your work protected.

Thanks to guest contributors at the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts of Massachusetts, a program of the Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston.

by Jane Haskins, Esq.
updated May 11, 2021 · 3 min read

  • It must be your original work: it must originate with you and show some minimal amount of creativity.
  • It must be fixed in a tangible object, such as paper, a canvas, or a digital medium. It cannot merely be an idea for a work of art.

When Does Copyright Protection Begin?

Rights Conferred by Copyright

In the case of a painting, the deposit copy that you must submit would generally be “identifying material” in the form of a photograph of your painting. When completing the application to register a painting with a photograph of the painting as the deposit, you should select “2D Artwork” in the “author created” field and not “photograph,” because you are attempting to register the painting depicted in the photograph, not the photograph itself as a work of authorship.

Applications may be submitted either through the Office’s electronic registration system or on a paper application. The Office strongly encourages that applications be submitted electronically, as those applications generally are processed more quickly than paper applications.

As a creator, the great thing about the internet is that you can upload your work and share it with people around the world for very little cost. However, people can illegally download and copy your work without your permission. This is why it is very important to protect the words, images, music and films you put on the internet.

This information will be helpful if you use the internet in the following ways:

  • showing your artworks on websites
  • sharing your videos or films
  • using other people’s words, images and information in your own work
  • blogging or writing your thoughts, comments or ideas on websites
  • communicating with friends on social networking sites.

Other people need your permission or licence to do those things.

  • protects your work against use by others without your permission
  • allows you get money for your work.


With digital technology, it is very easy for people to copy or use other people’s work without permission. This happens a lot with music or film on the internet.

Everyday, people use the internet to copy and share other people’s work for free, and without permission. This is called piracy.

Protecting your work

There are ways to protect material you upload on the internet from being used without your permission:

To protect your visual art, you can:

  • add a visible watermark to your images before uploading them
  • disable right-click
  • add invisible information to your images online
  • tell users that a high quality version is available to buy
  • upload low-resolution images only — no more than 72dpi
  • put the © notice with your name next to your work.
  • give people the possibility to contact you — for example, by showing your email address. It will be easier for someone to ask for your permission to use your work.

To protect your music, you can:

  • hide information into your music — this is called digital watermarking
  • upload low-quality recordings only — a compression rate less than 49 kilobits per second
  • tell users that a high quality version is available to buy
  • attach the © notice with your name next to your recordings
  • give people the possibility to contact you — for example, by showing your email address. It will be easier for someone to ask for your permission to use your work.

To protect your film, you can:

  • hide information to track your film — this is called digital fingerprinting
  • upload low quality versions only — a compression rate less than 151 kilobits per second for video and 49 kilobits per second for the sound
  • tell users that a high quality version is available to buy
  • put the © notice with your name into your film
  • give people the possibility to contact you — for example, by showing your email address. It will be easier for someone to ask for your permission to use your work.
  • The internet is a very public place for showing your work. Millions of people use the internet, and have access to anything that you put there.
  • Showing your work on the internet can increase the risk of someone copying your work without your permission.
  • Australian copyright law protects most things on the internet, including your work.
  • It is illegal to download or share copies of images, songs, movies, or TV shows without the copyright owner’s written permission.
  • Put the copyright notice, your name, and the year to anything you upload, for example: © Name Surname 2010.
  • Only put low-quality versions of images, sound recordings or video on the internet.
  • You can protect your work by:


  • providing your contact details and how to buy your work – email is usually best
  • adding a visible watermark to your images before uploading
  • disabling right clicking to make it harder to copy an image

Legal Tips

  • Work out what uses of your work you will allow before putting any material online: for example:
    • can people buy it online?
    • can people download it?
    • is it available for private use only, or can it be used in public?
    • Make sure that people know you are the copyright owner of your work and what they can do with your work.
    • Use a search engine to see if other people are using your material.
    • If your copyright is infringed get legal advice and take action. Learn more about how to take action on the following pages.

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    Should I copyright all of my artwork?

    Keep digital records of your work.

    Having a photograph or high-quality scan of your art can show when the art was created within the metadata of the photograph or in the scanned date.

    Sign and date your work.

    This isn’t as solid as the first option, because just anyone can sign and date something whenever.

    Which pieces should you register?

    For example, if it’s a really complex or abstract painting, this is unique and makes it difficult for someone to rip off, whereas something like literary work from a blog post or in an e-book can be copy and pasted very easily.

    Note: Because I’m based in the US, I’m going to give instructions based on what I’ve done. If you’re outside of the US, the steps will be similar, but through a different website. You can find where to file in your specific country by just doing a quick google search!

    If you’re doing it on your own, here are the steps:

    1. Register your work through Copyright Office of the U.S. Library of Congress.
    2. Click on the electronic Copyright Office (eCO) and fill out the registration form and pay the fee
    3. Once this is submitted, the registrar’s office will examine your application. Once it’s approved, you’ll receive a certificate proving you registered the work…aka evidence of copyright. This will be filed online for public record, but make sure you also keep this copy in your records!