Copyrights for Literary, Performing, and Visual Artists


Creating a literary or visual work, or a work of performing art, draws from two important resources: the artist's tremendous talent and labor. Another important resource available to the artist, after she finishes her creation, is copyright law. Without the protection afforded by copyright law, artists could not derive economic value from their works. But for copyright law, any work that was capable of being fixed in paper or film, or in any other tangible material, could be freely copied and distributed, and the artist would receive nothing.

The value that artists provide is so fundamental that the United States Constitution states that

"The Congress shall have power ...

"To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and Inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries"

U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 8.

With these principles in mind, we have tried to present some of the basics of the Copyright laws of the United States. We have limited this booklet to the information that most artists typically seek. We have not covered all aspects of copyright law. Furthermore, we have not covered contract principles, which govern the transfer of rights in your works, and the income that hopefully you will receive from your works. Additionally, various other federal and state laws, such as rights of privacy, rights of publicity, and free speech rights, might impact creation and performance of your artistic works.

For those of you who have been "surfing" on the Internet, you have surely come across the acronym "FAQ", which stands for "Frequently Asked Questions". We tried to use copyright FAQ's as the main headings of this booklet. The less-frequently asked questions we put at the end of this booklet in Appendix H. Also for you Internet users, in Appendix A we listed some World Wide Web sites that have helpful information relating to copyright law.

This booklet is intended to address the FAQs shared by artists, as well as some additional questions. The opinions in this booklet are those of the authors and not necessarily of their employer or TALA. This booklet is not a substitute fo legal counsel. If you want legal counsel about your specific situation, call TALA;. you may qualify for free legal counsel from one of TALA's volunteers.

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