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by Jack Munday, Esq.

The English poet Keats has said that "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever." Whether by intention or by pleasant surprise, metalworking artisans occasionally create a thing of beauty and a work of art. The concern we have as artisans, therefore, is not whether the beauty will last but whether we will be able to reap the benefit from our work. In other words, while Emerson may have said "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it" he made his living as a writer, not as a creator of beauty for the beholder. How does an artisan protect the beautiful thing that has been created?

Congress has recognized that works of art need to be protected and has included pictorial, graphic and sculptural works in that class of works that may be protected by copyrights. Title 17 U.S.C. Section 102(a)(5) covers these types of creations. Congress has also said that the definition of sculptural works implies no criterion of artistic taste, aesthetic value or intrinsic quality. In other words, as long as you made what you consider to be a work of art as a metal worker, it is capable of being protected by the copyright laws.

There are two separate issues for metalworking artisans and these issues arise depending upon what the artisan is intending to do. An artisan may create a sculpture that has no functional use, such as a statue or ornamental object that has its appearance as its sole function. The non-functional object is clearly entitled to copyright protection. At the other end of the scale is the creation of a totally functional work, as simple as a nail or as complicated as a working machine. If the functional object also is aesthetically pleasing, such as a door knocker, bookend, candlestick and the like, then the form (but not the substance) of the object is properly protected by a copyright. While the machine may be patentable, and that is a totally different matter, by itself it is not protectable by copyright laws.

QUESTION: How do I obtain a copyright on my 18 ton artistic, aesthetically pleasing (to me, if no one else) sculpture?

ANSWER: Registration of copyrights for sculptural works and objects of art may be accomplished by sending in Form VA with the appropriate information requested, along with a $20.00 fee to the Register of Copyrights at the Library of Congress. The form is relatively self explanatory, and can be done by the author without assistance of an intellectual property lawyer.

QUESTION: If I make a metalwork sculpture, or several incorporating the same intrinsic artistic appearance, can I sell a copy that I make and still keep my copyright?

ANSWER: Yes, just as a publisher sells books without concern that others will make copies of the book to sell, a sculpture or other ornamental design is sold without giving any right to the purchaser of the object to make copies. That right remains with the owner of the copyright, not with the owner of the copy.

If your artistic work is worth protecting, it is advisable to contact an intellectual property attorney who has had experience in copyright law, at least for an initial consultation. Getting good advice before you start is like any precautionary measure. Better safe than sorry, as someone is always saying.


John S. Munday

Munday and Stanton

3434 Garrett Road, Suite 100

Drexel Hill, PA 19026 610-259-2381

Jack Andrews

Current Address



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Copyright 1995 ArtMetal / John S. Munday

ArtMetal Editor/Curator: Enrique Vega

Last Updated:Tue, Sep 17, 1996