Hey everyone, it’s time for an early InkedFur’s Furry Friday, due to the fact that last month I was a crippled mess of sobbing pain when it was time to actually get this thing up. So this month, as promised last month, we’re going to look at something everyone keeps asking about as they wag their tails expectantly and keep demanding I take their side in some dispute with an artist. Namely, we’re going to look at the concept of copyright when it comes down to who owns what in a commissioning relationship in two separate Furry Friday posts, the first of which we’ll talk about today!
And allow me to be blunt when I tell you some of you are going to want to walk into the vet’s office to have yourselves put to sleep when I inform you of the law surrounding this shit. Namely, the assumption that most people have regarding the ownership of anything related to their fursona or any other fluffy character they may create. But to discuss THIS, we first need to talk about a few basics of copyright so…you know…we fucking know what we’re talking about here.
But first, a disclaimer!
Not Your Fucking Lawyer.
We’ve covered this shit a lot on here, but I really need you guys to remember that I’m a lawyer in the United States. That means when I talk about questions of law, it’s going to be based on law as it exists in the United States. I also need you to remember that although we’re going to be talking about federal law today, the interpretation of federal statutes that have not been before the Supreme Court of the United States are very much open to differing interpretations depending on where your case is heard. Finally, and for fuck’s sake this is important, this is an educational and hopefully entertaining discussion regarding law and copyright. It isn’t in any way, shape, or form legal advice for your specific situation. If you want me to represent you and form that magical attorney-client relationship, which will be much more disappointing than your first relationship in high school ever was, you gotta come into my office, meet with me, sign an engagement letter, and pay my ass. I’m not your lawyer. You need to go contact a lawyer in your jurisdiction regarding any legal matters and not take advice from a guy who can’t go three sentences without saying “fuck” most of the time.
All that said, let’s talk about copyright.
What is your Copyright, and What Does He Do?
Copyright is, as my good friend Marc “The Patent Man’ Whipple explained, essentially a protection for artists and creatives to have the sole right to distribute and profit from their work. More or less, it says “the owner of this creative work is X, not Y, and that’s fucking that. Now stop making homemade Robin Hood animations that feature oversized…parts. That shit belongs to Disney.” It’s what we call an “area of exclusion” in the law, meaning that the federal government not only made the law that governs it, but has decided its courts alone have the ability to hear cases and controversies arising from copyright cases. This markedly different from trademarks, “the idiot’s version of IP Law” (I can say that, I do those cases), which can be heard in state or federal courts. So, you know, when you steal someone’s art and start plastering it everywhere, remember that the artist can abso-fucking-lutely make a federal case out of it. In fact, they’re required to if they bring an action.
How Are Copyrights Created?
This is a neat thing, really. Technically a copyright exists from the very moment a piece of work is created. Have you ever doodled a strangely anatomically correct yet oversized horse pud on the side of a Waffle House placemat while at a convention? Congratulations! You have a copyright in the thing that almost fucking definitely a) scarred that poor waitress for life or b) awoke something in the busboy. There’s nothing more than the act of creation required for the creation of the copyright! Isn’t that fucking awesome!
Isn’t there this whole “registration” thing I have to do?
Yes and no.
Technically registration is voluntary, and you don’t need to register something to have a copyright in the work. But you really should, because although you can bring an action without registering the copyright, it’s harder to do, and you’re not really bringing a “copyright infringement action.” You’re bringing something more akin to a property-based tort for conversion or some shit, because copyright infringement will really only function as a cause of action if the copyright is actually registered…in which case you can get a lot of pluses to the whole deal, like statutory damages even if there isn’t any real monetary damages, attorney’s fees, etc.
The gist is, you’re really going to be able to enforce a copyright in a way that a lawyer sits up and takes notice if you register the work. Fun sidefact: in the United States, you are legally required to deposit all copyrighted works with the Library of Congress. So…you know…if you draw furry porn, copyright one of your pictures just to make sure that a throbbing animated wolf-person dick is immortalized for future generations.
That won’t fuck up the future’s perception of us at all.
I have this idea for a character and told it to someone else, and they drew it and now I want to sue them for a billion-million-quadrillion buckazoids because…
Stop right the fuck there, because we’re about to have a community sing along:
Oooooooooooooooooooo/ YOU CAN’T COPYRIGHT AN IDEA!/YOU CAN’T COPYRIGHT AN IDEA!/GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY OFFICE/CAUSE YOU CAN’T COPYRIGHT AN IDEA!
Copyrights, first and foremost, apply only to fixed tangible copies of works. You can have as many ideas as you want, but until you actually put that shit down in some physical form you have no claim to it. Your idea for a rainbow-colored marmoset named Steve that shits sprinkles is not copyrighted if he only lives in your head between the sections of your brain reserved for con plans and Twitter feuds. Fixed. Tangible. Form. Period.
You want a copyright in fucking Steve the Sprinkle Shitting Marmoset? Write a goddamn story about him and pay for a copyright registration, then get your unholy creation stuck into the Library of Congress. Then you’ll have rights to Steve and his Sundae-Topping Scat Fetish.
I don’t want to pay for a copyright, so I’m gonna mail shit to myself! HA! LAWYERED!
You’re an idiot and it won’t work. There’s no magical loophole around the copyright law provisions for registration. What you’re referring to is a “poor man’s copyright” and it may work as proof in one of those “not really copyright infringement actions” we talked about, but it sure as fuck is not going to bring you under the warm and welcoming gaze of the U.S. Copyright Office when you try to sue somebody for drawing your “original character” in a compromising situation and selling it online.
Also, quick note: If you haven’t registered a copyright in a character you created and drew, your “OC DO NOT STEAL” is a matter of courtesy, not legality. Just a quick FYI. But seriously, dudes, don’t steal someone’s characters. Not cool.
Of course, if you didn’t draw them….that’s for next time, isn’t it?
So I have to pay.
Everyone pays. That’s how the world works. We all pay.
How much does it cost to register a copyright then, you bloodsucking bastard?
Seriously, it depends.
There are multiple copyright applications, and the type you use depends a lot on the nature of the work. The basic filing fee is $55, but there’s a whole lot of subcategories and other fees that may apply as a part of it, and if you file online it’s cheaper than filing on paper, and then there’s this whole subset of cheaper copyrights called “Single Applications” that are only $35.00, but those are for ONE WORK created and featuring solely ONE CREATOR, and…I mean, guys, it can get complicated. This is why you generally want a lawyer out there doing shit.
Especially when you add in shit like registration searches to make sure you aren’t trying to copyright shit that’s already been copyrighted or which would infringe. Which is always a good idea. There may be someone out there who already tried to register your Chakat opera singer or some shit.
I thought we were talking about commissioner/artist ownership issues?
Next time. It’s just really important that you guys understand Copyright is a whole area of law with a lot of shit that goes into it first. Because that shit’s important You need to know the basics of what I’m going to talk about before we start talking about it, otherwise it’d be like showing Grandma E621 with absolutely no explanation.
Confusing and likely to cause a fight at Thanksgiving.
We feel cheated.
Welcome to life. Luckily you only have to wait like two weeks, not a whole month.
That’ll wrap it up for my belated Furry Friday post from InkedFur.com. Speaking of which, those guys sponsor these posts, so go check them out at some point. They have a lot of shit there that’s sort of neat…and bulgey. Very bulgey.