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Copyright Resources

A guide to the tricky world of copyright: what is covered, what is not, and how to tell the difference.

Works of the Visual Arts

What are Works of Visual Arts?

"(1) a painting, drawing, print or sculpture, existing in a single copy, in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author, or, in the case of a sculpture, in multiple cast, carved, or fabricated sculptures of 200 or fewer that are consecutively numbered by the author and bear the signature or other identifying mark of the author; or

(2) a still photographic image produced for exhibition purposes only, existing in a single copy that is signed by the author, or in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author."

(Full list)

How is an artist protected?

Artists have the right to claim authorship on their work, deny authorship of work they did not do, prevent their name being associated with work "in the event of a distortion, mutilation, or other modification of the work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation," and to prevent such mutilation from occurring. Note: Time and wear are not considered types of mutilation.

How long does copyright of visual art last?

For the life of the author, or, in the case of multiple authors, copyright ends when the last living author dies.

(U.S. Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C. § 106A and Circular 40: Copyright Registration for Works of Visual Art; [PDF])

This Image is in the Public Domain!
"Hot Dog Stand, West St. and North Moore, Manhattan" (1936)
Berenice Abbot
NYPL Digital Gallery

 If you're interested in learning more about protecting your work, see the U.S. Copyright Office's instructions on registration.

Images in the Public Domain

Works that are in the public domain are free to reuse and repurpose. These include images whose copyright protection has expired, and more recent works that were designated for public use at their time of creation.

Though an item is in the public domain, it is always best to attribute these works to their original author, and if you cite it in a paper, your citation must also include where it is currently held. The Library of Congress Guide to Citing Primary Sources can help you figure out how to format image citations (Chicago, MLA).

Useful Resources


The information presented here is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.