The question of copyright comes up a lot for artists, and as it turns out, its often grossly misunderstood. So, I figured I'd do a quick post about it.
First, let's discuss what copyright is. Basically, it's just a bundle of rights that the creator of an original artwork has in relation to his or her work. Those rights include the right to be paid for the exhibition and reproduction of their work. It also includes something called moral rights which protects the artist from having their work mutilated or destroyed or altered in a way damaging to their reputation or from having their work associated with a cause or organization they're personally opposed to. Copyright isn't something that has to be registered, it arises as a result of the work having been created and it lasts a long time. In Canada, it lasts for the life of the artist plus 50 years. Other countries have slightly different durations.
So what does all that mean? I won't get too legalistic here, but I will address the most common question I get from collectors, whether they can make a print of a painting they've collected from me to give to their grandmother, their boss, whomever. They assume that because they own the painting they can do as they wish. WRONG! When you collect a work of art from an artist, you've purchased the physical object, that's all. You do not acquire copyright, that remains with the artist. So, you cannot in any way reproduce the work without the artist's permission and without compensating him or her for the privilege (called a licence). The long and short is, yes, you own the painting, but the expression of the ideas contained on it, the stuff the copyright protects, is still mine.