There’s a misconception that artists have the luxury of being perpetually inspired free spirits with few concerns other than making great work. However, working as an artist means running the risk of having your intellectual property (IP) stolen or misused. In a world where just about every artist takes to social media for self-promotion, how do creatives keep their ideas and images their own? We talked to patent attorney Mitchell Ghaneie of the Law Offices of L. Jack Gibney to learn how.

Patent attorney Mitchell Ghaneie of the Law Offices of L. Jack Gibney.

If you’re an artist who works in a digital realm where work can be “borrowed” easily, what rights do you have when it comes to the improper use?
For photos, digital works and that kind of thing, it’s better to file unpublished work with the copyright office ahead of time. If you file it as unpublished, then you can put hundreds of pieces of work in one filing and get that protected all at once.

If you do find that another individual is using your work without your permission, what should your first plan of action be?
I would suggest two different things. Either the person could try to talk to the other person and just work it out, or just go an attorney and figure out what can be done. The problem with going to an attorney is attorneys don’t always make things simple and things can escalate.

How often do you have cases where an artist has to argue with another entity about the fact that the stolen work is in fact something that they produced?
It’s not often, but it can be easy to create a paper trail that proves you did the work. For example as a photographer, having some kind of documentation that you were there on that day, you took so many photos, and what you took photos of. The good thing about social media is that a lot of photographers take a photo for self-promotion when they’re at a site and post it online. Well, that’s timestamped, so you can’t really mess with that. Either way, make a habit of documenting the jobs that you do.

Prongles, anyone?

When you’re hired to create an image, or graphic or other work for a client, who has ownership of that work?
The only way that another person would gain exclusive rights to that work would be if there was a signed “work made for hire” agreement between the person who bought it and the person who made it. That’s overlooked by a lot of people in the creative world. A lot of the time it’s just an exchange of money and it’s all handshake agreements, but if there’s nothing in writing, then that artist retains the right to that work.

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