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  • Shreepal "Shreeps" J. Zala

Creative Smarts: 12 Smart Strategies (& Tips) to Protect Your Art! (Part I)

The satisfaction of finishing a new work can be exhilarating!  You’ve taken your idea from genesis to completion, and it manifested into something incredibly important to you.  Now on to sharing your work in all the places people support you and your work.  Before that though, you should take a moment to pause and think about protecting your intellectual property rights.  Here are twelve practical strategies for protecting your art before, during, and after you create your work.  Along with each step, I’ve provided actionable tips for you to incorporate into your daily life.  I’d suggest you choose one to three of these tips and implement them immediately!  The best way to protect your work is to better understand IP law and adopt these practices into your day-to-day life.

1.     Save the Date

Make sure to record essential dates along with your works, particularly your date of authorship or first use in commerce.  The date of creation, publication, and first use in commerce are all dates with real significance.  Dates can be critically important in IP disputes and failure to show proper dates can be fatal to a copyright claim.  Memories fade with age so you should be methodical in the date keeping methods you use to track your dates of authorship.

Save the Date Tips

1.      Make writing down the date the first thing you do!

2.      Backdate your current works with proper dates of authorship.

3. Separate or organize your works by month or quarter for easier referencing.



2.     Sort Out Joint Authorships

Many copyrightable works are the creative output of people working together.  After all, two heads are better than one, and a great creative partnership can be your best chance of success.  So don’t let disagreements about ownership get in the way post facto!  Clearly define your ownership rights in writing and signed by both parties if necessary.  You might save a few friendships along the way

Sort Out Joint Authorships Tips

1.      On the fly? Record initial terms and/or verbal consent on your phone.

2.      Start discussing ownership expectations before (or early into) the joint authorship.

3.      Share articles that stress the importance of authorship agreements (incl. this one).

3.     Know Your Fair Use Exceptions

Fair use allows for the use of copyrighted material without permission.  If you have a legitimate fair use exception, you can successfully counter claims of copyright infringement.  Fair use includes the following: commentary/criticism, news reporting, education, parody, and transformative use.  Unlicensed use is permissible under these fair use exceptions.  Be cautious though, determining fair use is a case-by-case analysis and not always as clear cut as it seems.  Courts measure fair use by what is borrowed and how it’s used.  Make a mental note of which exceptions are most relevant to your industry and then consider these tips as well.

Know Your Fair Use Exceptions Tips

1. Familiarize yourself with examples of fair use in your particular field(s).

2. Source industry or national fair use practices via trade association websites.

3. Borrow only non-material elements to reduce the risk of infringement.


4. Add Digital Watermarks

Digital watermarks are used to protect the unauthorized duplication of images or other content by layering copies of a digital brand, name, or warning across the image.  Copying or distributing the image becomes out of the question.  Many visual artists and photographers who post online will use digital watermarks to protect their intellectual property online.  Digital watermarks are a great way to display your works online, while also protecting your works from being digitally stolen through a simple copy & paste command.  Getty Images is a great example of effective digital watermark usage.

Add Digital Watermarks Tips:

1.     Digitally watermark your highest-risk content first!

2.     Add “Available for License” to your watermarks to invite inquiries.

3.     Add other digital (metadata) fingerprints to prevent watermark photoshops.


 5.  Lean On Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that allows you to search from a centralized website for images that are available under the various licenses they offer.  There are six types of CC licenses that vary in scope like whether you can modify or commercialize the work and whether you must attribute the original author.  So long as you comply with the license, you’re allowed to use the work.  All this is based in Creative Commons’s mission to benefit the public good.  We salute you, Creative Commons.

Lean On Creative Commons Licenses Tips:

1.     Add the Creative Commons to the list of sites where you source content.

2.     Make note of your favorite artists to revisit for later images or content.

3.     Want to collaborate or commission a work? Send a thank you to the artist!


6. Use a Copyright Notice

Forty years ago, the copyright symbol (©) was mandatory.  If you failed to include the visible copyright notice, you’d lose your rights in the work forever.  In 1989, Congress changed the law, dropping the requirement and instead fixing copyright protection at the time of creation.  No more tragic outcomes for forgetting the symbol. The symbol’s not entirely useless though.  It serves as open notice of your ownership to would-be infringers; so people still use it often.  The notice eliminates any plausible deniability that the infringer didn’t know the work was protected (and can increase damages in certain situations).  Along with digital watermarks, this is a great habit to get into for all your published works!

Use a Copyright Notice Tips:

1.     Add the symbol wherever you think it’s appropriate, don’t be shy!

2.     Learn keyboard shortcuts for © (PCs - Press ALT + 0169 / Macs - Press Option + G).

3.     Add the © symbol to the titles in your online/social media captions.



That’s six strategies and eighteen practical tips you can start working into your career!  If you take just a few tips from the above, you’ll be in better shape to protect yourself in the future.  There was so much to share that I had to split this article into two parts.  In Part II, I’ll continue with the remaining six strategies to help protect your work.  



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