What is a copyright? Copyrights are the rights you enjoy as the author of original material. Copyrights attach to a creation as soon as you have fixed it in tangible form, e.g. a painting, a musical score, a choreographic notation, a sound recording, etc. Ideas, processes and concepts cannot be copyrighted, nor can names, titles, or some other short phrases. The copyright insures that only the owner of the copyright may copy, print, or distribute the work; publicly perform or create derivative works.

Copyright law protects work that fall into one of the following subject matters:

  • Literary works;
  • Musical works;
  • Dramatic works;
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works;
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • Sound recordings; and
  • Architectural works.

Not all art forms are considered equal under the law. For example, visuals artists are given greater rights, whereas architects are given less. Further, copyright law does not cover all art forms; for example, fashion design, stage directions, dramatic performance and modeling are currently unprotected. An attorney will be able to give you guidance as to the rights associated with your given art form.

How can I get a copyright for my work?
Your work is automatically copyrighted; however, in order to sue in federal court (and be eligible for statutory damages,) you need to register it with the U.S. Copyright Office. Please note: there is no such thing as the “poor man’s copyright,” so mailing yourself the work is not a substitute for registration.

If I use the Attorney Referral Service, do I have to pay the attorney for services after my 30-minute phone consultation?
Yes. Our program is grateful for the hundreds of free phone consultations our volunteer attorneys provide each year and fully support an attorney’s for-profit business venture. One aspect of operating an arts business is to budget for professional services, which includes attorney fees. That being said, MnLA encourages clients to be smart shoppers, and to match their legal and financial needs to a qualified attorney.

How do attorneys charge fees?
The three types of attorney fees are hourly, flat fees for services, and a contingency fee (where the attorney is paid a percentage of the damages award). It is a common practice for attorneys to require a deposit up front, which will be used towards the agreed upon services. Attorneys are legally required to return any funds that remain after the services are rendered.

Our Legal Fact Sheets provide additional information on legal issues pertaining to the arts. Still have questions? Contact us at

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