Art Protection: Intellectual Property Guide for Artists
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. What is Intellectual Property?
  2. Types of Intellectual Property Protections for Artists
  3. How to Apply for a Copyright
  4. How to Apply for a Patent
  5. How to Apply for a Trademark
  6. How to Protect Your Artwork Online
  7. What to Do if Your Work is Stolen
  8. How to Ensure Your Contracts Protect Your Art

As an artist, your creativity is your currency, but it's not all about brush strokes or keystrokes. It's also about protecting what you create. That's where intellectual property rights come into play. This guide will shine some light on the subject of intellectual property rights for artists. We'll cover what intellectual property is, the types of protections available, and how to apply for them. We'll also dive into how to protect your artwork online, what to do if your work is stolen, and how to ensure your contracts protect your art. So, let's get started!

What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property, often referred to as IP, is like the invisible force field that protects your art. It's not something you can touch or see, but it's there, and it's mighty important! Intellectual property is a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect. Basically, it's the legal term for ideas, inventions, designs, and art. For artists, IP is the heart of your work, and it's protected by law through things like copyrights, patents, and trademarks.

Now, you might be thinking, "So, it's like a magical shield for my art?" Well, yes, in a way! But remember, it's not a physical shield. Instead, it's a set of legal rights that protect your artwork from being used without your permission. This can include anything from your paintings, sculptures, and photographs to your songs, novels, and even your unique jewelry designs.

Protecting your intellectual property is like locking your front door at night. It's about safeguarding what's valuable to you. Without it, anybody could walk off with your creations and claim them as their own. And that's not fair, right? So, understanding intellectual property rights for artists is a must for anyone serious about their craft.

To give you a better idea of what intellectual property rights for artists can do, let's look at an example. Imagine you've created a painting. It's your masterpiece. You own the physical painting, sure, but you also own the copyright to that painting. This means you control who can reproduce it, sell it, display it, and so on. And if someone does any of these things without your permission? That's a breach of your intellectual property rights.

So, in a nutshell, intellectual property rights for artists are like the superhero cape for your art. They're what keep your art safe and sound in a world where not everyone plays by the rules. So let's dive into how you can secure these rights and keep your creations under your control.

Types of Intellectual Property Protections for Artists

When it comes to intellectual property rights for artists, there are three main types that you should know about: copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Each one offers a different type of protection, so let's break them down:


Copyrights are perhaps the most relevant type of intellectual property protection for artists. They protect original works of authorship, like your paintings, sculptures, photographs, and written works. The moment you create something, you automatically hold the copyright to it. However, registering your copyright can provide additional benefits—like being able to sue for damages if someone infringes on your copyright.


Next up are patents. Now, patents might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to art, but they can be relevant! Patents protect new and useful inventions or discoveries. So, if you've invented a new type of paint or a groundbreaking method for creating art, a patent could be the way to go. Keep in mind, though, patents are generally more complex and costly than copyrights.


Last but not least, we have trademarks. Trademarks protect brand names, logos, and slogans. If you're an artist who has developed a unique brand around your work, a trademark can help protect that.

Remember, each type of intellectual property protection serves a different purpose and protects a different aspect of your work. The key is to figure out which ones are right for you and your art. In the following sections, we'll guide you through how to apply for a copyright, a patent, and a trademark. Stay tuned!

So, you've created a masterpiece and now you want to make sure it's protected. Good on you! Here's how you can apply for a copyright to secure those intellectual property rights for artists:

  1. Create an original work of art: This might seem obvious, but your work has to be original and you must be its creator. It also needs to be tangible. That means it can't just exist in your head—it has to be on paper, canvas, or another physical medium.
  2. Visit the Copyright Office’s website: You can apply for a copyright online through the U.S. Copyright Office’s website. It's pretty user-friendly and even has a section dedicated to visual arts.
  3. Fill out the application: On the website, you'll need to fill out the application form for the type of work you're registering. In this case, you'll be choosing "Work of the Visual Arts."
  4. Pay the fee: It isn’t free to register a copyright, unfortunately. You'll have to pay a fee, which you can do right on the website. Don't worry, though—it's a small price to pay for the protection of your art!
  5. Submit a copy of your work: Finally, you’ll need to submit a copy of your work. This can be done digitally on the website, or you can mail it in. Once that's done, all you have to do is wait for your certificate of registration to come in the mail.

And there you have it! Applying for a copyright is a straightforward process, and it's a great way to ensure your intellectual property rights as an artist are protected. In the next section, we'll talk about how to apply for a patent. But remember, patents are more suited for inventions or discoveries, so it might not be as relevant for all artists. Still, it never hurts to know, right?

How to Apply for a Patent

Patents are less common in the art world, but if you've invented a new technique or tool, they can be a critical part of your intellectual property rights for artists. Here's your step-by-step guide:

  1. Determine the type of patent you need: There are three types of patents—utility, design, and plant. Most likely, you'll need a utility patent, which covers new and useful processes and machines, or a design patent, which covers new, original, and ornamental designs.
  2. Check for patent eligibility: Not every invention can be patented. It must be new, not obvious, and useful. So, before you start the application process, make sure your invention meets these criteria.
  3. Prepare a detailed patent application: This is where things get a bit tricky. You need to describe your invention in a way that someone else could reproduce it. It's a good idea to hire a patent attorney or agent to help with this part.
  4. File your patent application with the USPTO: You can do this online through the United States Patent and Trademark Office's website. There's a fee involved, which varies depending on the type of patent.
  5. Respond to objections and rejections: The USPTO will review your application and may have objections or rejections. You'll need to respond to these in a timely manner.

Securing a patent can be a complex process, but don't let that deter you. It's an important avenue for protecting your intellectual property rights as an artist, especially if your art involves unique techniques or tools. Ready to move on? Let's dive into trademarks next!

How to Apply for a Trademark

Now, let's talk about trademarks. A trademark protects the brand names, logos, and slogans you use to distinguish your art in the marketplace. Securing a trademark can be an essential part of the intellectual property rights for artists. Here's how you can do it:

  1. Do a trademark search: Before you apply for a trademark, check the USPTO's database to see if someone else is already using a similar mark. If they are, you'll need to choose something else.
  2. Choose your mark carefully: Not everything can be trademarked. The more unique your mark, the easier it will be to register and protect.
  3. Prepare your application: Fill out the application form provided on the USPTO's website. You'll need to provide information about your mark and what you're using it for, plus pay a filing fee.
  4. Monitor your application status: After you've submitted your application, keep an eye on its status through the USPTO's Trademark Status & Document Retrieval system. You'll be responsible for responding to any issues that come up during the review process.

Remember, owning a trademark can prevent others from using a brand name or logo that's similar to yours. It's another important tool in your toolbox of intellectual property rights for artists. Coming up next, we'll look at how to protect your artwork online.

How to Protect Your Artwork Online

Alright, let's switch gears and discuss protecting your artwork online. In today's digital age, it's just as important—if not more so—to defend your intellectual property rights for artists in the virtual world. Here are a few steps you can take:

  1. Watermark Your Artwork: This is a visible sign or logo you place over your artwork to prevent others from stealing it. It's like a virtual "No Trespassing" sign.
  2. Disable Right Click: On your website, disabling the right-click option can discourage people from downloading your artwork without permission. Remember, it's not foolproof, but every little bit helps.
  3. Use Low-Resolution Images: Another tactic is to only upload low-resolution images of your artwork. This maintains the quality when viewed online but makes it unsuitable for printing or reproducing at a high quality.
  4. Include a Copyright Notice: While it's not required, adding a copyright notice—like "© [Your Name] [Year]"—can act as a reminder that your artwork is protected.

Protecting your art online can be a bit like a game of cat and mouse, but these steps can help ensure your intellectual property rights for artists are upheld. Next, we'll talk about what to do if your work is stolen—because, unfortunately, it happens.

What to Do if Your Work is Stolen

Imagine this: You're browsing through a website and boom, there it is—your artwork, being sold without your permission. Your heart sinks. This is a nightmare that no artist wants to face. But don't despair. Here are some steps you can take if your intellectual property rights for artists have been violated:

  1. Contact the Offender: Reach out to the person or website hosting your stolen artwork. It might be a misunderstanding or they may not know they're infringing on your rights. Ask them politely but firmly to take it down.
  2. Send a Cease and Desist Letter: If the first step doesn't work, it's time to put on your lawyer hat. Draft a cease and desist letter stating your rights and demanding the removal of your artwork.
  3. File a DMCA Takedown Notice: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) empowers you to request the removal of your stolen work from websites. It's a powerful tool in your arsenal.
  4. Consult with a Lawyer: If all else fails, it might be time to consult with a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property rights for artists. They can guide you on the next steps, which might include filing a lawsuit.

Remember, it's not just about the money—it's about respect for your hard work and creativity. Stay vigilant and protect your art like it's your baby, because in many ways, it is.

How to Ensure Your Contracts Protect Your Art

So, you've mastered your craft and are ready to start selling your work or taking on commercial projects. That's fantastic! But before you do, let's talk about contracts. They might not be as exciting as a fresh canvas or clay, but they're just as important for protecting your intellectual property rights for artists.

  1. Be Specific: Your contracts should clearly define the rights being granted. Are you selling the original piece while retaining the reproduction rights? Or are you granting an exclusive license for a set period? Remember, the devil is in the details.
  2. Include a Copyright Notice: A simple copyright notice can serve as a reminder that you retain the intellectual property rights to your art, even if the physical work changes hands.
  3. Consider a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA): If you're working on a project that's still under wraps, an NDA can help ensure that your work isn't leaked prematurely.
  4. Seek Legal Advice: When in doubt, it's always wise to seek legal advice. A lawyer can help ensure that your contracts are airtight and that your intellectual property rights for artists are well protected.

Remember, your art is unique and invaluable. It's worth the extra time and effort to make sure it's protected. After all, you wouldn't leave the house without locking the door, right? The same principle applies to your art. So, protect your work, and keep creating!

If you're interested in learning more about intellectual property and protecting your artwork, don't miss the workshop 'How To Start Licensing Your Art' by Rachel Christopoulos. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights on how to license your art and ensure that your intellectual property is protected.