Copyright basics to help keep your royalty-free designs lawsuit-free.
We have all heard the story, the ‘selfie-taking monkey’ that is pitting the entire internet against itself. We are here to explain it all, and help you avoid all this ‘monkey business’. (Sorry, we had to!)
Royalty-free images exist for a number of reasons—chief among them, to keep designers (and the income they earn from designing) safe from copyright claims.
Still, it’s important to understand a few rough concepts surrounding ownership before sharing or selling your artwork.
How to Protect Your Designs: An Introduction to Copyright
As an overarching guideline, you own the sole right to works of art that you create. Just as strangers don’t have the right to enter your home and take possession of your family photos, they’re generally prohibited from taking possession of your digital artwork online (posting them to websites, using them to advertise products, etc.).
Draw a portrait of your dog and hang it over the couch in your living room, and no one has the right to just walk in and take it—regardless of how cute your dog is. Post a photo of your dog—or a photo of the portrait—to your website, and the same rules apply: if the image ends up in a magazine without your permission, you’ll have the right to claim damages for unauthorized use.
Of course, the reverse holds true. Use someone else’s imagery in your work without express license, and they’ll have the right to claim damages from you. This applies not just to people’s work, but to the mere “likeness” of their work—meaning you’ll still risk litigation for tracing someone else’s pet photo or turning it into a vector image.
Such is the reason we’ve done the work for you:
Expert Tip: You don’t have to actually register a copyright in order to establish ownership over your work—just like others don’t have to register their work in order to
block you from reproducing it; a copyright exists automatically the moment you or they create something. Registering a copyright just makes that ownership easier to prove and litigate, as it generates a public record.
You can register a piece of artwork through an attorney or through the U.S. Copyright Office for as low as $35—but save yourself the postage and ignore any advice to beat the system by employing what’s often called a “poor man’s copyright,” i.e., sending yourself a copy of your work via certified mail. It won’t hold up in court—no matter how well you seal your envelope.