2314.2 A Work of Visual Art Distinguished from Visual Art Works and Works of the Visual Arts
There is an important distinction between a “work of visual art” and the terms “work of the visual arts” and “visual art work,” which are used in Chapter 900 and elsewhere in this Compendium.
The term work of visual art is defined in Section 101 of the statute. As the legislative history explains, this term “is not synonymous with any other definition in the Copyright Act and, in particular, it is narrower than the [statutory] definition of ‘pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.'” H.R. REP. NO. 101-514, at 11 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 6921. Specifically, the work must be a painting, a drawing, a print, a sculpture, or a still photographic image produced for exhibition, and the work must exist in a single copy or in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer copies that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author. See id.
The terms “work of the visual arts” and “visual art works” are synonymous with each other. The U.S. Copyright Office uses these terms when referring to (I) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works, and (ii) architectural works. In other words, a work qualifies as a “work of the visual arts” or a “visual art work” if it falls within the statutory definition of an architectural work or a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, regardless of whether the work exists in a single copy or in multiple copies and regardless of whether the copies have been signed or numbered by the author. For a definition and discussion of these terms, see Chapter 900, Section 903.