It's not unusual for artists to be concerned about protecting their copyright, but what I can't seem to reconcile is when artists aren't taking precautionary steps to claim copyright in the first place.
I'm not talking about officially registering for copyright. Whether or not you choose to do this is up to you.
I'm talking about giving yourself credit whenever and wherever you show your art.
You may be thinking, Of course I do this. I would never show my art without credit.
Here’s a little challenge: If you think you have all of your bases covered, I invite you to use the checklist below to do a quick review.
Tell Us Who The Heck You Are
If I came across this once, I’d only be amused. But I run into it several times a month.
I visit a website, social media page, or open an email where the artist’s full name is nowhere to be found! I can’t make this up.
I can see how this happens. After all, you know who you are. Your brain is filling in the blanks because you’re too close to see what isn’t there. But you aren't properly crediting your art if your name isn't visible.
If you want to be known in the history books, pick a single format for your name and use it consistently. For example:
First Name + Last Name
First Name + Middle Initial + Last Name
First Name + Maiden Name
First Name + Maiden Name + Last Name
Crediting Your Art is Your Responsibility
Next, make sure your name appears in the following places.
- At the top of every page on your website or blog. This has become easier with the advent of template sites like WordPress, FASO, SquareSpace, and Wix, but you still have to remember to include it in the first place.
- At the top of your email newsletter.
- In the “from” line in your email. Please use email with your professional name in it.
- In the signature that closes out a personal email to anyone but your nearest and dearest.
- On any storefront you use online. Even if you use a business name, your name should have a prominent place.
Then there are the situations that require more than your name.
Enter the Art Credit Line
Wouldn’t you be pissed off if someone showed your art and didn’t give you credit? Here’s the thing: Before someone else can give you credit, you have to claim the credit for yourself, and many artists are not doing this.
A credit line is what you include alongside your art whenever and wherever it is shown. Yes, even on social media.
The credit line includes your name, title of the piece, medium/technique, dimensions (if online or in print), and credit to your photographer.
When the image is online or in print, add your copyright notification. (Using the © symbol isn’t accepted in gallery and museum labels.)
Related: Pointers on Wall Labels for Your Exhibition
Twenty years ago, I never would have encouraged the use of the © symbol, but the Internet has changed the dynamics. Hopefully would-be image stealers will think twice when they see that a piece is copyrighted.
Crediting your art is easier when you develop a standard format for your credit lines.
How to Make a Copyright Symbol
Here are easy instructions for adding the © symbol, rather than using the clunky (c) with your credit line.
Making a Copyright Symbol on a Mac
Hold down the OPTION key and type the letter g. ©
Making a Copyright Symbol on a PC
Type Ctrl+Alt+c on a PC. ©
Listing Dimensions of Your Art Properly
The proper way for listing dimensions when crediting your art is Height x Width x Depth.
Notice the credit lines that appear with the images in this post are standardized in this format:
©Artist’s Name, Title of Work in Italics. Medium/technique, dimensions (H x W x D).
If you post the year of creation, it would appear immediately after the © notice. In my example:
©Year, Artist’s Name, Title of Work in Italics. Medium/technique, dimensions (H x W x D).
See that your credit line is visible alongside the art in these places:
- On your website or blog. Notice that if you have windows that show a larger version of an image, your name might disappear behind it. Then you have people admiring your art without seeing your name attached to it. This is the most overlooked opportunity to claim credit.
- In your social media posts that contain finished artwork. Work in progress is separate, but finished work should have the full credit line.
- In printed promotional pieces: postcards, catalogs, flyers, brochures, calendars, note cards, and the like.
- At your exhibition. You do not need dimensions on a label in a live show because people can see the size for themselves. It would, however, be included in a checklist of the exhibition. (See note about © info on labels above.)
I encourage you to take five minutes to review all of your sites and promotional pieces to see that you have included your name and credit line. But only if you want the credit.
This post was originally published March 9, 2017. It has been updated with original comments intact.
35 thoughts on “Checklist for Crediting Your Art”
A helpful check list. Do you have any recommendations for posting art on Instagram?
Christine: If you’re asking if you should use your credit line, the answer is YES!
I did not do so well! Thank you for the tips I will be correcting these issues asap.
You’re welcome, Willena. You’re on the right path now.
Good tips. Remember, too, to fill in the Alt Text box when uploading images to Pinterest, etc. This is the text that shows below your image when published. (Of course, pinners have the option of changing it.)
Credit needs to be part of any uploaded artwork image. To make this easier, use Photogene or other apps to add text to your phone photos before uploading.
Ellen: I agree with the alt text info. But I’m not sure I agree with the other. I think it’s fine. It’s just so onerous. My jury is still out on this.
Good post, Alyson!
Here’s another problem I’ve seen way too often. I have come across many websites where the artist’s name is never mentioned. For the life of me, I cannot fathom why an artist would do this. Usually the artist talks about “we” and “our” instead of using his/her name.
If a person is interested in a piece of art on the website, they have no way of knowing who to address when inquiring. People want to connect with a real person, the artist; not some corporate sounding entity. This is a missed opportunity for the artist to connect personally with potential collectors.
Another thing I’ve seen in ads in magazines is the artist’s name as a signature which is unreadable. This is another missed opportunity to get your name into a collector’s mind.
Karen: Agreed. That’s why I say “top of every page on your website or blog.”
Oooo. Unreadable signatures is another good one!
For the most part, I have all of these covered except having the name at the top of emails and all web pages. That’s easy enough to fix 🙂
Yes, Linda. Quick fix.
Very, very helpful! I put my name and © at the bottom of each page on my website but it’s never occurred to me to add the info whenever I post my work. Thank you too, Ellen Linder, for the additional tips!
Monette: Yay! You’re on your way.
I embed my name in my image in a watermark before posting online. That way if it is separated or event printed it has my name attached.
Of course, I send images without the watermark when presenting show proposals.
Alyson, the other place I have seen artists often not give them selves credit is at “shows”/ hanging their art in cafes, restaurants, and coffee shops (businesses too). I think if the business won’t let you put labels up then you shouldn’t show your work there since you don’t really get exposure and sales are usually nil without a label and price indicating the item is for sale.
Alyson, I’m probably on the Naughty list. I use my initials for signing my work and easy website name as my artist name is long. My main info is on a different about page, and I have 3 POD websites for prints and product which I would like convert to my own site having one main site and have the pod’s and videos from there instead. Love that other artists contribute great info too thanks Ellen Linder
Hi = I was thinking about this as a person came to pick up a painting I was donating to a charity gala fundraiser for the Cancer Fund. When I first donated a painting years ago- to something different-I just donated it and knew that it would be in the brochure. The person who bought it, and who eventually became a collector, had to look me up. Now I do a better job of identifying myself. Not only do I glue a business card on the back, but I also attach a one-page biography that I also use for other hand-outs. So – even if nothing else results from the donation, at least the person getting it has some information about me . This, of course, includes my website. You never know, if a friend asks about the painting, the owner can be more knowledgeable. Building up a reputation takes a lot of time. I also have some paintings in our city hospital . They do a nice job with a permanent plaque on the wall with the title and the artist’s name. I have had people come up to me elsewhere and thank me for the paintings I have in the hospital!
I,too, had affixed all my info to the back of a painting that was donated. Two years later, I was contacted by the owner and was commissioned to do a painting for her.
Kia Ora Alyson,
I print a “Certificate of Authenticity” and attach it to the back of each completed and framed painting.
Certificate of Authenticity Number: 1/2017 (Sequentially number each painting for each year)
This certifies that the painting “name of painting”
Was painted by (Full legal name of artist)
Signed as ” signature” (I use my nick name “Gazza”)
Was (purchased/given as a gift/donate to etc)
Signed by Artist (Legal Signature)
I also add a “chop” as another means of identification. I have a Chinese Chop with my name Gary which has two symbols meaning “To add good things” and “profit” I use this to stamp an impression on the certificate and on the back of each painting.
Though everyone’s original artwork is automatically protected by copyright once it’s completed (paint on to canvas, ink to paper, etc.), I routinely register my art with the United States Copyright Office (USCO) before displaying, selling, licensing, or sharing it with friends and my social media network.
Here’s how I marked my posted art:
Registered Copyright © [year of first publication] + my name + web URL or social media handle + specifications of the artwork with title, medium, dimensions, etc. + my issued copyright Certificate of Registration number + other information (if any) + [Licensed artwork].
Julie Drew wrote, “I embed my name in my image in a watermark before posting online.” This is a great idea! You could even create a stylized watermark to match the artwork.
If a party has my authorization to display my art, I require them to label it as “Licensed artwork,” rather than “Used with permission.” Using legal terms like “licensing,” presents artwork in a more professional manner.
How do you prove that you created your art piece? You simply register it with the USCO! If you register your artwork’s copyright before publication or within five-years of first-publication, you’re granted “presumptive proof” that your copyright and the facts stated in the copyright registration application are all valid. See page 7 of http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf (17 U.S. Code § 410(c)). Using the Poor Man’s Copyright (mailing a print copy of your art in a SASE) is not a substitute for registration and has no legal effect in US copyright law. See https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html#poorman
Thank you for all the good ideas!
Here’s another tip for online—when you save your images to post, you can put your name in the image title plus a description. For example “Studio Name or FirstLastName_Painting_NWLandscape” (You will get more out of Google searches too.)
Susan LC wrote, “…you can put your name in the image title plus a description. For example ‘Studio Name or FirstLastName_Painting_NWLandscape’ (You will get more out of Google searches too.).”
This is a great point!
You can also create and include a personal code number, say t3yy9b3ek5, in ALL your image titles: FirstLastName_Painting_ t3yy9b3ek5_NWLandscape. You could enter this code number in a Google search where your works are being used.
The US copyright statute identifies image titles along with affixed watermarks, credit lines, and embedded metadata as “Copyright Management Information” (CMI).
Per 17 USC § 1202, if a party removes OR changes any CMI to hide an infringement, artists are eligible to pursue DMCA/CMI enhanced statutory money damages of $2,500 to $25,000 against US-based infringers (this legal option does NOT require the work to be registered with the US Copyright Office!). Attorney fees are also available against the infringer. I’m seeing more and more copyright attorneys using this strategy to pursue art thieves:
1) Options for Recovering Infringement Damages: http://www.photoattorney.com/?s=cmi
2) Did Someone Remove the Copyright Notice from your Photograph? http://www.photolaw.net/did-someone-remove-the-copyright-notice-from-your-photograph.html
If artists choose not to register their copyrights (bad business mistake!), they should, at the very least, affix CMI to their posted & shared works to obtain some legal redress in case of infringements.
I picked up some wonderful points from the post as well as the comments for double checking my credit bylines. I have a question. In case of paintings on my own website, do I need to put the copyright credit underneath each of the paintings? My website name is the same as my own name and I have a bold notice at the bottom of each website page about my copyright. Thanks.
Kusum: I would put it underneath each image. If your name isn’t visible, add it to the credit as well.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stumbled on an Instagram account that I love, but the artist has hardly any information! Or they use something cryptic as their bio, like “&thensome” (actual example). Are they too cool for a bio? Are they so popular I should just know who they are?
I’ve often wondered about watermarks, which is what I currently do but sometimes hesitate on becauseof how it is a little intrusive into the art. Is it better to just use the credit under the image? I also have a business name and I wonder sometimes about using that as opposed to my real name as the artist. I’d like to be known by both and one associated with the other. Perhaps both in the credit line? Thanks so much for all of your useful information! I’m really enjoying your site.
Thank you Alyson for this info. I design jewelry. When I post I add my website always. The photographer is me so no worries there. Should I be doing something else??
I design jewellery. When I post to social media, my website is included. I’m the ???? so that’s okay. Do I need more?
No, that’s fine. You can list yourself or just leave that off, Hellena.
Thank you so much for this article. I can see I have missed many opportunities. I have some backtracking work to do!
There’s always more to do, Dani. The important thing is to take a new path from this point forward.
A very interesting and helpful article – thank you!
My understanding, however, is that a copyright notice should be the copyright symbol, the word “Copyright”or the abbreviation “Copr.”, the year of first use, then the copyright owner’s name.
There is more information in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_notice
The notice is apparently not required to actually have copyright, but it certainly helps deter theft and defend against it.
I hope this helps.
Mary: I do believe that’s how I wrote it in the two examples (in magenta) above. The problem is that many artists do not want to note the dates of their artworks online.
May I add another suggestion? When posting about an exhibit you are in, put the name of the gallery, the address, town/city, state along with the date and time of the opening. Artists post about getting ready for an exhibit, but don’t share the important information of who/what/where/when–the basics of any announcement or PR that folks who might attend your exhibit would like to know.
In your example in magenta
©Year, Artist’s Name, Title of Work in Italics. Medium/technique, dimensions (H x W x D).
Is the year the year when the work was created or 2021?
Website should be up next week.
Thanks for all the tips
Hi, Betty. The year in which it was created. That’s always the © date. Many artists don’t use that in their credit lines, but this is where you would put it if you’re publishing online.