Copyright Safeguard

Copyright Safeguard™

Copyright Questions and Answers

We're happy to answer your questions about copyright issues. (Note that many questions are already covered in our Copyright Myths.)

Use our Contact Form to submit your question, and we'll take our best shot at finding an answer for you.

How do I know if something is protected by copyright?

Often you can't know for certain. There are a few cases where you can be sure it is not protected. For example, the work may be very old and the copyright has expired, or the source may explicitely say that it is a public domain work.

However, because copyright protection is automatic, you should assume that any work you see is protected by copyright unless you know otherwise.

Is it OK to copy something if it is not for profit?


Copyright law means that you can't make copies of someone else's work, even if the copy is for personal use, or not for profit.

However, the lack of profit intent may be taken into account as one consideration in a fair use determination.

If I can't identify the author, can I use the work?


The work is still protected under copyright law. Even if you can't identify the author, or you can't find a way to contact the author, or the author does not reply, you do not have the right to use the work.

Can I use a photograph as a basis for a painting or work of art?

No. If you make a recognizable copy of a photograph - even in a different medium - then you are violating the copyright of the photographer. In order to legally use the photograph, you would need the permission of the photographer.

Can I file a DMCA complaint if the copies are not online?

No. DMCA takedown requests only apply to online service providers.

However, in many cases people who steal your work and make copies (for example, selling t-shirts with your artwork) promote their work with a website or Facebook page, and may even sell the pirated work on sites like CafePress or Etsy. With a little effort, you may be able to cripple the pirate's business by blocking their Internet promotion and sales.