Copyrights and Artwork

Recently, I was chatting with a couple of our artists about copyright laws and art.   Particularly as it relates to selling an original work of art and also incorporating iconic images/persons in a work of art.

What many people do not know is when they sell or purchase an original work of art — a painting, a photograph or even a print from an artist, the new owner of the original artwork ONLY owns the work, not the right to reproduce that work in any format.

The  original owner does have the right to re-sell the original work of art to someone else, for whatever amount they choose  without any of the proceeds of that sale going to the artist but not in all countries and apparently, not in California.   For example, I purchase a work of art from an artist.  Ten years later, for whatever reason, I can sell that work at a yard sale or via an art dealer, etc., anywhere in the US except in California without paying any of the proceeds to the creator of the original work.   This is refered to as:

Resale Right / Droit de suite

A number of foreign countries recognize a resale right or droit de suite, as it is often called. This right allows artists to participate financially in the resale of their original works of art. The resale right has been administered successfully in numerous foreign countries for years, most notably in France and Germany. Laws providing for the resale right were recently harmonized in the European Union. In the United States, however, federal law and almost all state laws fail to provide this right to artists, California being the sole exception. As with copyright, the duration of the resale right is usually the lifetime of the artist plus 70 years.

Also the topic of using iconic imagery came up — likenesses of famous individuals — this is something I am familiar with having worked at film and television production companies where I had to have people appearing in a production sign a “release” form and also when I worked in PR and Marketing at a film studio in which the use of an individual’s likeness is stipulated in contracts related to the PR and marketing of a film (and for any advertising/marketing of any product, etc.).    Additionally, rights to use a person’s likeness may also belong to their estate as in the case of an iconic person/personality such as Marilyn Monroe:

Rights of Publicity & Personality

Rights of publicity (also sometimes called rights of personality) refer to an individual’s (or an individual estate’s) exclusive right to authorize how the name, voice, signature, image or likeness of the individual may be used. Many copyrighted works incorporate photographs or other images which depict individuals (for example Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn Monroe”), and publicity rights may be an issue in the reproduction of these works for certain purposes. Similarly, in order to use an artist’s name, signature, or likeness in an advertisement, the advertising agency must clear the artist’s rights of publicity with the artist or estate.

For both artists and buyers of art, understanding what rights you have to the art you’ve created or purchased is a good thing to be aware of.

ARS: The Artists Rights Society has some very good information covering various types of copyright pertaining to works of art.

I also found some additional information about copyrights and art that might help to better understand the rights that an artist retains after selling an original work of art (and some info on using anything copyrighted or trademarked in works incorporating “derivative art”) and the rights of the buyer of a work of art.

What do you get when you buy some art?

Copyright derivative art

Derivative Art:  The “Barbie” Case

Is it legal to paint a trademarkedcopyrighted/patented product as art and sell it?

Chris Woods — Artist (uess trademarked copyrighted / patented products in his work)

If you need legal representation:  California Lawyers For The Arts


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Chris Woods
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 14:05:12

    Hey thanks for the mention! Even though I am Canadian I learned some stuff from your piece as well. Nice work.


    Chris Woods

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