Compendium of U.S. Copyright Practices, 3rd Edition

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917.1 Copyrightable Authorship in Art Reproductions


917.1 Copyrightable Authorship in Art Reproductions


A reproduction of a work of art or a two-dimensional art reproduction may be protected as a derivative work, but only if the reproduction contains new authorship that does not appear in the original source work. This category includes hand painted reproductions (typically on canvas); plate, screen, and offset lithographic reproductions of paintings; Giclée prints; block prints; aquaprint; artagraph; among other forms of expression.


An exact copy of a source work is not eligible for copyright protection, because it is akin to a purely mechanical copy and includes no new authorship, regardless of the process used to create the copy or the skill, craft, or investment needed to render the copies. For the same reason, a reproduction of a work of art cannot be protected based solely on the complex nature of the source work, the apparent number of technical decisions needed to produce a near-exact reproduction, or the fact that the source work has been rendered in a different medium. For example, the U.S. Copyright Office will not register the following types of works:


• Reproductions of purely textual works.


• Reproductions in which the only changes are to the size or font style of the text in an underlying work.


• Mere scans or digitizations of texts or works of art.


• Reproductions in which the only change from the original work is a change in the printing or manufacturing type, paper stock, or other reproduction materials.


• Preservation and restoration efforts.


• Any exact duplication, regardless of the medium used to create the duplication (e.g., hand painting, etching, etc.).


The Office will register any new and creative authorship that is fixed in an art reproduction. However, the registration specialist will not assume that all such works embody new, registrable authorship. In addition, the specialist will communicate with the applicant if the application refers to a new process previously unknown to the Office, or if it appears that the author made no more than a high quality copy of the source work.


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