Guidelines for Requesting Transfer of Copyright for a Work of Art

Whenever possible, the receiving unit should request a transfer of the copyright to the work of art.

Under federal law, copyright protection is available to all works of authorship that have been fixed in a tangible medium (this includes pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; photographs, prints, and art reproductions; maps, globes, charts, diagrams, models, technical, and architectural drawings).

Owners of copyright have the following exclusive rights: to reproduce the work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies to the public, and to perform/display the work publicly. These rights are divisible and may be conveyed separately or in entirety. Ownership of the copyright of a work of art is distinct from ownership of the material object. Ownership of copyright remains with the artist unless copyright was conveyed by written agreement.

Copyright protection for a work created after January 1, 1978 endures for the life of the artist, plus another fifty years. Works created prior to 1978 were granted two 28-year terms of protection, with renewal required after the first 28-year term. Once copyright protection has expired, the work falls into the public domain and can be used freely by anyone.

Works of art protected by copyright are available to anyone for “fair use,” such as for criticism, teaching, or research. “Fair use” is determined on a case-by-case basis, based upon four factors: the purpose and character of the proposed use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used, and the effect of the proposed use upon the potential market for, or value of, the work.

Federal copyright law has a provision pertaining exclusively to visual artists. It grants the creator of a work of visual art a limited right to maintain control over the work even after it has been sold. The artist has the right to claim authorship of the work and the right to prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of the work. These rights belong to the artist, even if the artist is NOT the copyright holder. They extend for the life of the artist and cannot be transferred, although they can be waived.

All questions on the complex issues of copyright should be referred to the Office of the Executive Director for Legal Affairs.

Last Updated on September 18, 2019