How do I protect my unpublished cartoons from being copied?

Question:

I am an aspiring cartoonist whose work is not yet published. However, I plan to change that. What kind of copyright protection do I need?

Answer:

You already have a copyright on your cartoons simply by having fixed them on paper. However, if you are concerned about theft of your cartoons, you should register the copyright. Here are the benefits of registration:

  • If you register within five years of publishing your artwork, you are presumed to own the artwork and to have a valid copyright on it.
  • If you need to sue someone over infringement of your artwork, you'll need to have registered the copyright.
  • If your artwork is registered prior to someone's infringement, or within three months of its publication, a successful lawsuit against your infringer may entitle you to special payments, known as "statutory damages," and to reimbursement for your attorney's fees.

You can register your cartoon by submitting application Form VA to the federal Copyright Office along with a $45 fee and the appropriate deposit materials. If you've been prolific, you can go ahead and register a whole group of unpublished cartoons for the same $45 filing fee. Form VA is available on the Copyright Office website (www.copyright.gov). While at the website, you can get more information by downloading Circular 44, Cartoons and Comic Strips, and Circular 40, Copyright Registration for Works of the Visual Arts.

It's also a good idea to place the familiar copyright notice (for example, Copyright © 2007 Art Jones) on each published copy of your cartoon. This tells anyone who sees the work that the copyright is being claimed, the name of the person claiming it, and when the work was first published. The presence of this mark prevents an infringer from later claiming that the infringement was accidental. With this and a little kryptonite, you'll be protected from a whole host of infringing evils.

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