Copyrights for Visual Artists

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tsachade wrote
on 13 Sep 2013 10:33 AM

Copyright issues never seem very clear to many of us and I'd like to pose a question for anyone that might have an answer.

If a private company hires an artist to paint backdrop murals for their 3-D model railroad layouts, should the artist be selling the full copyrights to the company? How would this be calculated in order to come up with a price?

The company would ultimately set up these large models of cityscapes with trains running through them as a public display for tourists, as a destination. The company is looking to make money on this venture and would therefore, charge admission, which means that their marketing and advertising would include photos in booklets, pamphlets, videos, etc. of the models and the backdrops.

Any suggestions?

Thank you.



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on 13 Sep 2013 11:43 AM


You are right. Your question is not as simple as the usual ones regarding copyright.

The situation you have explained falls within what is termed "work for hire". This is where it can get complicated. Under U.S. copyright law, an artist automatically has copyright protection on any original work created in a tangible form.

The exceptions to this are works that  an artist was hired to produce. There are two basic forms of "works for hire". The first is work created by an artist while employed to do such work by a firm. In this case the copyright belongs to the employer. The second type of "work for hire" is work that is specifically ordered or commissioned for use. If the work falls within one of the nine catagories listed in the statute, it is recognized as "work for hire". This also applies to work created if there is a written agreement between the commissioning party and the artist that identifies the work as "made for hire." Under these conditions, the copyright belongs to the party commissioning the work.

Murals are not usually considered to fall within one of the nine catagories recognized as "works for hire".  And if there is no written agreement identifing the work as "work for hire", you would retain the copyright.

However, I am not a legal expert. There are fine points to be considered. While this is envolved, it is not so complex that you can not understand the basic issues with some research. The Internet link at the base of this posting addresses this issue directly. After reading it, you should have a better understanding of how the statutes apply. At that time you may still have some questions. Google, "Copyright Law and Artist's Work for Hire". There is a wealth of information.

I hope this helps you. This is not a point to be solved by personal opinion. This is U.S. law.

Good Luck,




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tsachade wrote
on 13 Sep 2013 1:35 PM

Thanks Paul, I'll do a bit more reading.

Tom S

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socialera wrote
on 22 Feb 2014 4:28 AM

Its their work of art, and regardless of that, it is their job, so I think there is always copyright on their work, but it must be in limitation, as in broad ideas, one can do same thing if they are in this field.

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