Value of Signing & Dating Images

Full Question: Is there any value in signing and dating an image?

Answer: It is not necessary to sign or date your work in order to protect your work under the U.S. copyright law. However, including this information on the work may provide certain benefits, such as:

1) It identifies the author of the work, which may be useful for parties seeking permission to use the work.

2) Signing and dating may assist in preventing a work from becoming an “orphan work” by identifying the author and/or specifying the term of the copyright.

3) If the author’s real name appears on the work, the term of the copyright could be based on the life of the author plus seventy years. Thus, including this information may be useful in determining whether the work is protected by copyright and when the copyright will expire.

4) If the author’s real name does not appear on the work (i.e., if the author is anonymous), if the author’s pseudonym appears on the work instead of his or her real name, or if the work is a “work made for hire,” then the term of the copyright is not based on the life of the author plus seventy years. Instead, the term would be based on the year that the work was created or the year that the work was published. Thus, if the work is, in fact, anonymous, pseudonymous, or a work made for hire, including a date may be useful in such cases determining the term of the work.

In enacting the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) in 1990, Congress provided authors of certain types of visual works of art the “moral rights” of “attribution” and “integrity” under section 106A of the Copyright Act.

Simply put, the right of attribution provides authors the right to claim or disclaim authorship of a work. The right of integrity provides authors the right to the right to prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation or other modification of a work which is prejudicial to the artist’s reputation or honor and to prevent the destruction of a work of recognized stature by any intentional or grossly negligent act.

Among other requirements, the statutory definition of a “work of visual art,” states that the work must either bear the signature or other identifying mark of the author. So, while the copyright law does not require an author to sign and date their work for purposes of basic copyright protection, a signature or other identifying mark is one of several specific requirements for a work to qualify as a “work of the visual arts” for purposes of enforcing the rights of attribution and integrity. See 17 U.S.C. ¤ 106A.

Answered by:

Rob Kasunic, Director of Registration Policy and Practices at the U.S. Copyright Office

Current as of: 10/2020