This blog is about Graphic Design, Vector Art, and Cartoon Illustration

Basic introduction to copyright

As someone who has made his living as a graphic designer, I'm sensitive to copyright. In my industry, as in any other creative industry, like movies, or music, copyright protects things from being stolen. And so if you're doing some creative work and want to distribute it, you need to learn about copyright, and licensing.

Of course copyright is a law issue, and it's best handled by the pros, copyright lawyers. If you plan on publishing something that might get stolen, or "pirated", you'd be wise to consult one of these people. And yes, they charge money, and yes, it's part of your investment. Looking up stuff on the web, and listening to amateurs like me is a big mistake, because you want to be able to take copyright violators to court, make them stop what they're doing, and possibly get damages awarded to you for their infringement.

But before you start worrying about copyright, you have to ask if you mind having your stuff used without your permission. Speaking for myself, I don't mind, and that's only because I don't resell.

I do custom illustrations, and have been doing them for, uh, longer than I care to admit. If you lived in Phoenix anytime during the 1980s to now, you've seen my cartoons. They appear in ads mostly. If you lived in Santa Barbara from 1983 to 1986, you saw them there. I've done a lot of cartoons.

This is how it works for me: people hire me, I draw a cartoon, they pay me, and it's over for me. Technically, as the creator I still hold the copyright, but since I haven't registered them with the Library of Congress, no lawyer in his right mind would recommend that I pay to prove it in court. An LOC registration is your "ticket to court" and even then it's up to the courts to decide, and anything like that can get way expensive.

By the way, although I'm far from being an expert on copyright, I do know that just buying an illustration from me doesn't include exclusive copyright. In over thirty years of drawing cartoons, only one (1) client has been wise enough to make me sign a piece of paper releasing copyright to them. So the vast majority of cartoons that I've done are, technically, still under my own personal copyright. That's the copyright law of 1977 that no longer required an LOC registration, but it's still up to you to prove, in court, that you did original artwork that was infringed up. Wow, I'm starting to talk like a lawyer! Again, please don't listen to me - pay a real copyright lawyer, and listen to them.

I started seeing my cartoons all over the place, long before the internet, being used by people who just liked them. They appeared in the Yellow Pages (remember that?), in newspapers, ads, all over the place. I was always flattered that people like my cartoons, and I liked the exposure. People would say "I wonder who did that?" and when they found it was me, I got work. This still happens. But you have to consider my situation - I do custom illustrations, I don't resell, I don't publish, I don't make posters. If I did, I'd need to invest in a way to protect my copyrights.

I hope this helps. As far as I'm concerned, every time I see one of my cartoons out there it's free advertising for me. Some people will mention me, some won't, but I don't care. I just love seeing my stuff "in print" and nowadays on the web.

By the way, I have a lot of cartoons on Flickr that you can use without my permission. I appreciate the exposure, and free advertising! Here is my page:

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