Simply stated, if an individual uses a minimal amount of originality to create a work of art and puts that work into something tangible, such as paper, wood, concrete, a phonograph (this also includes software code and digital files), the creator has copyright ownership in their work.
The copyright owner has the exclusive right to make copies, sell, license, copy and display their work. They get to make money for their work if a market for the work exists. The copyright owner can also assign their copyright ownership to someone else.
Copyright ownership rights are a bit more complicated, but for this article, these basics provide a background.
Tattoo Artists and Copyright Ownership
What happens if an artist creates an original work of art on someone’s skin? Specifically, a tattoo? Who has copyright ownership? The easy answer is that the tattoo artist does because the artist created an original work of art fixed in a tangible medium of expression, someone’s skin. But is this the right answer — we are talking about a human body.
Twenty five years after his death, Andy Warhol’s legacy, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (“Foundation”), is being sued by the iconic band The Velvet Underground partnership (“VU”) for trademark infringement. http://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/new-york/nysdce/1:2012cv00201/390369/1/. The case is The Velvet Underground v. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, 12-0201, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan), filed on January 11, 2012. Specifically, VU’s four claims include: (1.) there are no copyrights in the banana design and is requesting such declaratory judgment, (2.) false designation of origin of the banana by the Foundation, (3.) unfair competition by the Foundation under New York common law, and (4.) misappropriation of the alleged trademark by the Foundation. The Foundation is due to respond to VU’s complaint in federal court on or before March 5, 2012.
Can you really copyright the Word of God? Seriously. The text of the Bible was written long before the United States Constitution wrote those famous words giving rise to the protection of intellectual property where Congress has the power … “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” U.S. Const., Article 8. http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/articlei. Obviously the Bible was in existence before the United States Congress passed into law the Copyright Act of 1976, which states in Section 201 that one obtains copyright ownership in an original work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium. http://www.law.cornell.edu/copyright/copyright.act.chapt1a.html#17usc102. People often ask, “If old books are in the public domain, isn’t the Bible in the public domain?” The answer to that question depends upon which translation you are talking about and when it was created. Similarly, there are old religious texts that have been used by biblical scholars since…well…the beginning of time. How can someone actually claim copyright ownership in these ancient religious texts?