How to copyright your art with the US Copyright Office!

Hi friends, long time no blog!!!

Today I wanted to talk to you guys a bit about copyrighting your artwork!
*This blog will mainly discuss the process on copyrighting your work in the United States. Other countries do have different laws and different processes. The process can be a bit confusing depending on the type of artwork you are submitting, what kind of business structure you have, and many other factors. I am not a lawyer, nor should you consider this blog post or any information contained within as legal advice. I would always recommend to consult a lawyer who specializes in copyright if you are unsure of how to proceed with your own application before submitting it! I have a great lawyer I use, if you'd like his information please feel free to email me at and I'll be happy to share that with you!*
 With that little disclaimer, let's talk about the process of why you might consider doing this for your work, and how I actually file.
Over the past few years I have been steadily shifting my business focus from simply selling my paintings online to now using my paintings to create surface pattern designs. This gives me the ability to license my artwork to other companies so they can use the art on their products! It's been great to see my paintings turned into purses, blankets, shoes and all sorts of other merchandise and this has been a great business opportunity for me to explore more.

I was working under the assumption that I had heard from other artists that "once you created your artwork, you own the copyright...." end of story I guess? Or if you put a copyright disclaimer such as: " ©2010 -2021 The Artwerks Design Studio, All Rights Reserved" on my websites I should be covered, right? Well, Ive found that while that is true, you are not protected legally to the same extent in the case of someone infringing upon your work. 

Here's some reasons why you should consider formally copyrighting your work:

Benefits of Copyright Registration

While registration of a copyright is not required for legal protection, you may enjoy significant benefits from filing. These include:
  • Public Record. When a copyright is registered, it is published in the U.S. Copyright Office's searchable database. Because it is a public record, it is easy for people to find and see that it is a copyrighted work.
  • Ability to File an Infringement Lawsuit. If your copyright is not registered, you can't file a copyright-infringement lawsuit. 
  • Validity of the Copyright. The registration certificate will provide factual evidence of the validity of your copyright in a copyright-infringement lawsuit.
  • Statutory Damages. Without copyright registration, any financial recovery is limited to actual damages, which can be nominal or difficult to prove. If you register your copyright, you are entitled to statutory damages and attorneys' fees. Statutory damages range from $750 to $30,000. In cases of willful infringement, the amount can be up to $150,000.

The process of copyright registration involves filling out an application form, paying a fee and submitting copies of the work to be registered to the U.S. Copyright Office. You can file a paper application or an online application. Save money and speed up the process by submitting online.

Why Copyright Registration Is Important for Businesses

Registering a copyright is not just beneficial to creatives and artists. Businesses can also benefit from registering the copyright for important software, company websites and marketing/advertising materials such as photographs, graphics and written copy.

If it is vital to your business, you should register the copyright. You will have increased legal protections, and the damages you will recover in a copyright-infringement lawsuit will be higher.
Also, if you have plans to expand your business internationally, you'll want to register your copyright. While there is no such thing as international copyright registration, the United States is a signatory to both the Berne Convention and the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty — international treaties that cover copyright protection. Therefore, any work protected by U.S. copyright law is automatically entitled to the same copyright protection in other countries. Registration is not required but, as noted earlier, only registered copyrights are eligible for statutory damages and attorney and court fees.
Even though it is not mandatory, copyright registration provides valuable legal protection. It makes it easier for other people to find your protected material. It can help you avoid expensive and timely litigation. And it is essential if you ever find yourself filing an infringement lawsuit.

Ok, so... You have decided you want to actually go about copyright your art. What do you need to do?
Ideally you'd want some form of proof of who created your artwork, and on what date for your own records. I started photographing my finished works (has a date stamp in the metadata of the photo) as well as keeping a spreadsheet that very simply has the following information: Title of work, size, medium, date completed, and the date when the design was *published* When defining whether your work has been published or not, the US Copyright Office has the following definition: 
What is publication?
Publication has a technical meaning in copyright law. According to the statute, “Publication is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.” Generally, publication occurs on the date on which copies of the work are first made available to the public.
So for this example- I often put my artwork up on POD (Print on demand) websites such as Spoonflower, Society6, or my own website so I can sell my art on fabric, tote bags, rugs, etc.. The day I put that work up onto one of those websites and make it available for sale, it is then published. On the contrary, If I took that painting to let's say, a park, and put it on an easel to display to people out in the park to they could view it, but NOT BUY it, it would NOT be published. If I made prints of the artwork and offered the prints for sale in the park, then it WOULD considered published. Whether it's available for sale in some form to the public I think is the main difference. 
Copyrighting your work BEFORE you decide to publish it is an important thing to keep in mind. One big advantage for visual artists is that if your work is UNPUBLISHED, you can submit up to 10 artworks at a time to the copyright office and pay one flat fee of $85. Once your work is published, then the filing fee would be between $45-$65 per piece. 
Here's the pricing as of 9/28/2021:

If you are both the author (artist) and the claimant (the person claiming the copyright for the work), you would fall under the first category. My situation is slightly different because I operate as an LLC, which technically means I am working for my own company. I file my copyrights as Me- Melissa - being the author of the work, but my LLC- The Artwerks Design Studio LLC being the claimant, so my fee is $65. If you're unsure of how you should be filing, I'd definitely consult with a lawyer before you file your application! Once you submit your application, you cannot make any changes.
Ok so, as for the process of HOW to apply for your copyright, I'll walk you through once I just did so you can get an idea of how the form is filled out.
First you'll need to make an account and log in at


Next you'll Click on the blue "registration" button:

and this will get you logged into the eCO (Electronic Copyright Office) system:


Following along so far? Good. Not too hard at this point!!

Next you'll get to a screen that looks something like this:

On the left side, you are going to select the option that applies to your situation. Usually you'll be clicking either the "Standard Application" (this will be the process I'm showing here), or if you have multiple unpublished works you want to put all on one application, you'd select "Register a Group of Unpublished Works". At the top you'll also have links to click any open applications, or working applications you may have started, but not finished. It will save your process for you so you don't lose what you've typed if you need to come back to an application later. In the case of this blog post, the design I'm showing you I actually started the process awhile back and didn't finish - so I clicked on "working cases" to get to it.

So there's a few different pages you'll go through to enter in all of the information regarding your artwork, when it was made, who owns it etc... This list is all of the different pages you must enter information into: Type of Work, Titles, Publication/Completion, Authors, Claimants, Limitation of Claim, Rights & Permissions, Correspondent, Mail Certification, Special Handling, Certification, and Review Submission:


First is the "Type of Work", which is pretty self explanatory I think. They'll give you multiple choices such as:

and next up you'll enter in the Title, again which I think should be pretty self explanatory:

I choose the first option for just one piece of art being registered.

Next up you select the Author, which generally speaking would probably be you, unless you did the work with a group of people, or the work was created for an organization. So this again may be slightly different depending on your situation. I believe that now, as I operate as an LLC, I would opt for the organization option. The author and the copyright claimant/owner would both be "The Artwerks Design Studio LLC" in my case. However, I'll give you my specific situation in this case. This work I am currently applying for was created in 2015, prior to my forming of my LLC. So in that instance, the author would be me - Melissa Polomsky. It gets confusing right!?

The next option is where you fill in who is the current claimant

In most cases, you (person) are both the author and the claimant. In my situation, I (person) was the author but my LLC (Organization) is the claimant. I had to have my lawyer write up a written document that basically states that any of my previous works was done by "written agreement" and that basically I am an employee of my company.  Under "transfer statement" I have to choose "by written agreement." Again, if you're not operating as an LLC, you likely wouldn't need to do this. Discuss with your lawyer if you're unsure!

Next up is Limitation of Claim. Now honestly. I didn't use this section at all, I didn't need to exclude any part of my artwork as I created it all from scratch. But if you used another person's copyrighted artwork to create an authorized derivative, or if you used work that was in the public domain to create your new artwork, you may want to research what options you need to select here. 


The next 3 sections: Rights and Permissions, Correspondent, and Mail Certificate  you need to go over the information and make sure you have good phone numbers, email, and physical addresses on file in case the copyright office needs to contact you with any questions about your application. You're letting them know who they are allowed to discuss the application with, and where to mail your certificate once its completed. On my last application they did reach out and email me as I had made mistake and they needed me to clarify what I had stated was correct. So definitely make sure you have that info! Otherwise they will decline your application and you lose the application money. 

The Special Handling section is for if you need expedited service. There is a significant charge for this, I clicked the option last time just to see what it would cost, and I think it was like an extra $600 or $800. You would need to fall under one of the options to qualify:

You're almost to the end!!

Certification means you are signing your name, your swearing you are indeed the author, and all the information you have provided is correct and truthful or risk up to a $2500 fine.

Also important, note at the bottom the field "Note to Copyright Office":  this is optional, but if you need to give the appraiser ANY addition info regarding your claim, you need to put it into this box. I generally make a note that I am submitting photos of my original painting, as well as a photo of my finished digital surface design- created for use on fabrics. (Or whatever is applicable.) If you have any weird filing things like I do being an LLC now, but that I wasn't an LLC when the artwork was created- I also put that info in there again. Anything you can add to help make your application less confusing for the appraiser I think is appreciated.

The review submission area allows you to access of of these previous pages, in case you need to make any last minute changes. Once you continue to the payment area and submit you cannot make any changes!!!  

So you'll go next to PAY (I deleted my personal info, but you'll see yours!)

Select your method of payment, and pay:

And at the END (which confused me too!!) after you've paid, you'll upload your images of your work(s).

I usually submit both an image of my original painting on canvas, as well as the image of my finished final Digital surface design to cover my bases. Also note you won't see the images pop up. It will just tell you that the images uploaded successfully. You cannot delete them once uploaded, so select your files carefully!

 OK and once you finally get the images uploaded and click submit, you'll get a yellow box and a note that your application is submitted like this:

Congrats! You're done for now! You can log back into the eCO to see the status of your application under "open cases". My experience that the process to get your application reviewed and accepted is generally about 3 months from the time you submit it. Maybe that's longer than normal due to the pandemic at the moment - who knows. If there are any issues with your application, my experience is that they reach out to you first via email, so keep an eye on your junk folder. 

Once approved, you get sent a nice certificate and the peace of mind knowing you're covered in case anyone wants to try to steal your art! 


Hope this helps all of you get started if you need to copyright your art!

Again, if you're needing a great lawyer to help with copyright, trademarks, infringement, or other legal questions that pertain to your art or your art business... I know a great one! I'm happy to give you his information via email if you should ever find yourself in need! 

Hoping you have a great day,



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