By Richard Stim, Attorney
I am an aspiring cartoonist, although my work has not yet published. My goal is to place my work in magazines or newspapers. However, I already have a broad portfolio of work, which I eventually plan to submit to editors. Before I do, what kinds of intellectual property protection do I need in order to secure my rights to the cartoons?
Anyone who makes creative work must consider their intellectual property rights. After all, if you are a painter, architect, or musician, sitting back while infringers "steal" your work could mean you lose a critical source of income or recognition.
Fortunately, copyright law is a helpful tool for protecting your creative output and helping the world realize that you are the one behind it.
Many artists are surprised to learn that copyright law protects their creations immediately, as soon as pen is set to paper (or brush to canvas, or fingers to keyboard), without any need for forms or lawyers.
You already have a copyright on your cartoons simply by having fixed them on paper.
But that legal entitlement is often not enough. How will you prove that you created a work, as well as the fact that you created it before, not after the infringer?
Here, the easiest solution is to register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office, the federal agency charged with the administration of copyrights. Although registration is not mandatory, there are several benefits to federal registration:
Registration of a copyright on artwork (known to the Copyright Office as "Visual Art") is pretty simple. No lawyers are required.
You can register your cartoon by submitting application Form VA to the U.S. Copyright Office, along with a $45 fee (2019 figure) and the appropriate deposit materials. Note that registration fees may increase from year to year.
Visual artwork can even be registered online, if you have a digital image.
What if you have dozens of cartoons already drawn? Do you need to register each one individually? Fortunately, no. If you have been prolific, you can go ahead and register a whole group of unpublished cartoons for the same basic filing fee.
Beyond copyright registration, it is also good practice to place the familiar copyright notice (for example, Copyright © 2019 First/Last Name) 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. And hopefully, it scares them away from infringing in the first place!