How Words with Images are Easily Protected With Copyright

Do you illustrate your stories? Create comic books or graphic novels? Do you develop interactive multi-media pieces? Or create anything which is neither one type of work (purely literary) or another (purely visual art)?

When it comes to selecting the “Type of Work” (or category of authorship) you are registering when completing a copyright application, only one choice can be made. If you regularly create work that mixes media, selecting the "Type of Work," the second step in a 14-step application process, can stop you in your tracks.

Getting stuck on the second step of the application isn't helpful when you are trying to create a habit of protecting your creative work with the strongest tool available – a copyright registration.

Artists Resist Labels

Many artists and writers reject categorizing their work.  Most artists I know really don’t care how their work is labelled or would prefer not to have it labelled it at all. When labels are used to describe art, it can undermine the art which should stand for itself.

Although they may not like to do it, writers are used to categorizing their work by genre in order to market their books according to the norms of the publishing industry and the reading public. Is it romance, or fantasy, or mystery, or all three?

The Copyright Office Requires Labels

Describing your art for an artist’s statement or defining the genre of your novel for KDP is a necessary part of a creative professional’s business model. In an artist’s statement, words can be used in unique combinations. Multiple genres can be chosen on Amazon. But the Copyright Office only lets you pick one category of authorship or Type of Work.

The choices are:

  • ​Literary Work
  • Work of the Visual Arts
  • Sound Recording
  • Work of the Performing Arts
  • Motion Picture/AV Work
  • Single Serial Issue

The electronic filing system (eCO) queues up the correct options that will be available to you as you complete the application for the type of work you select in the second step of the process. If you make the wrong choice here, you'll have to start the application over again. By the time you realize it, you might be seven or eight steps into the process.

Choosing the Type of Work for a piece that is neither one type of authorship nor another is important, but not critical.  If you make a mistake, the good news is that the Type of Work is for classification purposes in the Copyright Office's database only and has no effect on the validity or enforceability of the registration.

Practice Tip

If the work you are registering contains more than one type of authorship, choose the type of work that corresponds with the type that is predominant in your work. Then, when identifying the author list all the types of authorship being claimed.

The key here is that the different types of authorship (text and illustrations, for example) must be owned by the same person or entity in order to be included on the same registration.

If the text was created by one person and the illustrations by another, in order to register the work using one application, the authors would have to be considered joint owners. In a joint work, all authors own an undivided interest in the entire work. Another option where use of a single application is possible would be if one author transferred the ownership of her piece of authorship to the other.

An Example . . .

Let's take a look at the copyright registration for Scott McCloud's graphic novel The Sculptor, which tells the story of an artist's Faustian bargain. The two different elements of authorship in this work are literary (or text) and art.

The Work

Click to enlarge.

An excerpt from the graphic novel which combines illustration and text throughout its more than 800 pages.

The Registration

Click to enlarge

This is the catalog entry for McCloud's The Sculptor which is generated from the information included in the copyright application.

Note that the type of work selected is text. Then beneath that, McCloud is claiming authorship in both text and artwork in a single registration.

Also note that the application was filed right away, only three weeks after publication.

In A Nutshell

A single application can be used to protect two different kinds of authorship in a single work.

It is simple to do.

Select the predominant type of work in step 2, then include all the elements for which you are claiming authorship in step 5 of the application.

Questions, anyone?​

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3 thoughts on “How Words with Images are Easily Protected With Copyright

  1. Robert Brown Butler

    In your post of feb 26, the gist of your article is unclear.

    First, if you’re talking about filling out a form, begin by telling what the form is. TX, right?

    Second, In your ¶1 you refer to Type of Work when the form says Nature of Authorship. It would be less confusing if you used this term throughout.

    Third, at the end you say, “include all the elements … in Step 5.” Step deals with something different. Instead of Step 5 did you mean Steps b and c?

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