Reproduction Rights

No, this isn’t an article about Roe v. Wade. It is about your rights as an author of art. When you own a copyright, you get to:

• To reproduce the copyrighted work;
• To display the copyrighted work publicly;
• To prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work; and
• To distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public by sale, rental or lending, and/or to display the image.

These rights may be assigned, sold, transferred or given away. But when you assign, sell, transfer or give away any of these rights, the only one that must be done in writing is when you transfer the copyright in total to someone else. You may do the rest verbally.

Imagine the surprise of Duke Prentup when he found that his $100 lithograph purchased from University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill was a mirror image of the famous artist’s Thomas E. Mails’ pen and ink drawing, “The Mystic Warriors of the Plains.” While he likes Churchill’s lithograph, he is disappointed.

The two pieces are so identical, it’s clear that the copying was no accident. So the question becomes whether Mails, as the copyright author, gave Churchill permission to prepare a derivative work.

But we may never know. Mails is deceased. His son believes that his father would have not given such permission. Because such permission can be done verbally, there may not be a record to confirm it either way. Unfortunately, the son’s opinion won’t carry too much weight in court, either.

What should you do in response to this story? Always grant your rights in writing. Make a record of every single one. Make it such a standard policy of yours that after you’re gone, everyone will be able to testify that it was your habit to grant all of your rights in writing, even those that didn’t have to be. That type of testimony does carry weight in the courtroom. And that may be the only way to protect your work in the long run.

Take my advice. Get professional help.

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