A copyright is a legal right that protects original works of authorship.
Examples of things that can be protected by copyright are:
- Visual art (like photographs and illustrations)
- Written material (like text from a book or a web page)
- Recorded material (like dialogue from a movie and song lyrics)
So how can copyright help you as an artist? Lots of ways. If you own a copyright, it generally means that only you can use your creation unless you give someone else permission. For example, no one else can:
- Copy your artwork
- Modify it
- Sell it
- Perform it
Remember: a copyright only protects the actual things you make, not the ideas you have. If you dreamt of a wombat riding a motorcycle, it’s not copyrighted ‘till it’s on a tangible medium (on paper, on your computer, or on film). Make it happen!
Too late, I already did.
In some parts of the world, you just make your original artwork and presto chango! You’ve automatically got a copyright. In others, you might need to apply for copyright registration to obtain copyright protection (or registration might give your copyright greater protection).
For example, in the USA and many European countries, you can register your copyright to create a public record and to potentially improve your ability to enforce your copyright in a court of law. For more information, check out www.copyright.gov and www.eucopyright.com.
In contrast, under Australian law, copyright cannot be registered.
As long as you’re creating your own original art, and you’re not using any elements of others’ creations, you’re probably not infringing on someone else’s copyright.
If your work includes something that you didn’t come up with yourself (for example a character from a video game, text from a book, or lyrics from a song, etc.), you might be infringing someone’s copyright. If that’s the case, you’ll need to make sure that:
- you’ve received a license from the owner, or
- you can rely on a defense or exception to copyright infringement, such as “fair use” (see “What’s fair use?” for more info).
Keep in mind that not all countries recognize fair use. For example, there is no general fair use defense in Australia, although there are some limited "fair dealing" exceptions if certain conditions are met. Even in those countries that do have a fair use defense, like the United States, it’s notoriously hard to figure out if something qualifies as fair use. And the owner of the original content may disagree with your interpretation of whether your artwork is fair use. Even if you change someone else’s copyrighted material in a substantial way, you may still infringe on their rights.
There can also be more than one type of right that protects a particular work, each of which can be owned by a different person or company.
Say the aforementioned motorcycle-riding wombat is wearing a kickass bandana with a company logo. Although you may own the copyright to your drawing, that company might own the trademark rights to its logo (or even copyright in the logo). This could limit you from using your work in the way you want. Take a look at What’s a trademark? and What are publicity rights? below for more information.
Still feeling like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯? Unfortunately, no one-size-fits-all answer is going to tell you whether your particular artwork is infringing. If you have a specific question or concern about your artwork, it’s always best to speak to an attorney before you upload it to the Redbubble marketplace.
Obligatory Yet Very Important Legal Disclaimer:
Don’t be fooled by any complicated jargon (and how snazzy we look in pinstripe). We are not your lawyer and this is not legal advice. We recommend contacting an attorney if you need an actual legal consultation.
Rather, this is general information aimed at giving you the legal lay of the land. While we can’t defend you in court, we know that art and IP ownership can be murky territory; the least we can do is arm you with the right kind of knowledge to get you started.