Protecting your art doesn't have to empty your bank account.

When I first started my greeting card business I went to an organization called California Lawyers for the Arts where artists can get legal advice for a small fee and sometimes free. Most states and cities in the U.S. have similar resources.

The organization often has extensive classes on copyrights for $10-$20, e-Learning programs and webinars on copyright. Therefore, you really can't afford NOT to learn how to protect your art.

I met my own attorney, MJ Bogatin, an Arts and Entertainment Attorney through this organization and I have been working with him ever since. The nice thing about copyrights and contracts, is you don't have to actually show up in an attorney's office or live near them. You can just email copies of contracts to them for evaluation and you can also talk over the phone.

I asked him recently "What about artists on a budget? How can they protect their work?" Here are some tips from MJ Bogatin:


I recommend that whenever imagery is going to be published on the internet (or elsewhere) that the artist take the time and trouble to register the Works being published.

This can now be done online for $35 at By releasing a bunch of works in a single publication process, the whole lot of them can be registered for the same $35.


1) Proof of the date of your creation of a given Work (as against someone else’s claim that you have infringed on a work of theirs that turns out to have been created after your registration).

2) The right to claim statutory damages instead of being limited to the infringer’s profits, with those damages ranging from $750 minimum to up to $150,000 per act of infringement for Willful Infringement.

3) The right to recover prevailing party attorney’s fees and costs, ONLY if you have registered before the infringement or within 3 months of publication.


• With such a registration in hand, all I (or the artist) generally has to do is write a “cease and desist letter” informing the infringer of the pre-existing registration.

• Regarding the infringer: I can contact them and leverage the right to pursue the above statutory damages, and right to attorney’s fees into a beneficial settlement.

• I can also make this demand on everyone in the line of commerce who is using the infringing image, so there is pressure brought to bear on the infringer especially when there are licensees.


• I always consider the prospect of taking on claims on a contingency fee basis. Sooner or later, the infringer will have to capitulate or we will get a judgment that we can enforce against any of their assets or asset streams.

• There are infringers from whom we may never be able to collect. However, if there is a third party user that does have extensive financial resources, we can look to recover from them, and leave them to their remedies against the licensor/infringer. Only on rare occasions is a registered copyright holder left high and dry.

M.J. Bogatin is an arts and entertainment attorney, mediator, and is the current Board Chair of California Lawyers for the Arts. His arts practice encompasses literary, performing, visual and multi-media. He can be contacted

1330 Broadway, Suite 800
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 832-5005

Articles on Copyrights

Fear of Getting Your Art Stolen? Look at the Numbers

How to Register You Copyrights Digitally

Artist Protects Copyright Through Twitter

The 10 Key Points That Must Be In Every Licensing Agreement

Protecting Your Designs with Watermark Tools

Photoshop Tip: How to create a customized signature brush

Protecting Your Art: Interview with Alyson B. Stanfield

How to protect your assets in a licensing agreement

Free Booklets from the Copyright Office

PDF Copyright BasicsPDF Registering a Copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office
PDF Make Sure Your Application Will Be Acceptable
PDF Cartoons and Comic Strips
PDF Have a Question About Copyright Registration?
PDF Make Sure Your Application Will Be Acceptable
PDF Publications on Copyright
PDF Copyright Notice

Legal Books for Artists:

Legal Guide for the Visual Artist, Fifth Edition

Copyright Law for Artists, Photographers and Designers (Essential Guides)

The Copyright Handbook: What Every Writer Needs to Know



Marie D'Amico said...

I contacted Mr. Bogatin so I could hire him for consultation with copyrighting greeting cards. He's out until July 11 (he sounds fantastic, I read his resume). I don't understand how you register a whole bunch as one publication. Are you registering them as a collection with the same publication date?

I'll still hire him even if you answer! Thanks!
Marie D'Amico

Kate Harper said...

The short answer is yes, you can register a line of cards all at the same time. I usually do it annually.

Unknown said...

Very informative, thanks Kate :)

adan said...

nice to know the images can be grouped into one copyright

i guess one should create a table of contents? or does the online form cover that?

thanks again, great info

Kate Harper said...

Adan-The form explains it all.

Anonymous said...

What if your bank account is already empty? :(

Anonymous said...

Awesome information. All legal tips are very helpful for artists.

Visit here