Use these neat tips to thwart thieves
If you’re a graphic designer, illustrator or digital artist, then the prospect of someone stealing your work is a very real and present danger. Don’t panic, there are steps you can take to minimize this risk.
We know this is going to sound really obvious, but the Internet is simultaneously one of the best inventions of all time, and one of the worst. It offers artists the potential to share their work with billions of people, but it also greatly increases the chances of having this work stolen. The development of software blew up the potential of digital creation, enabling artists to push their art in new and exciting directions. Unfortunately, by its very nature digital art is simple to replicate and easy to steal.
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Back in the day, if you were a famous painter, you didn’t really need to worry about people stealing your work. In order for someone to copy a piece of art, they would need to be able to accurately recreate everything about your painting, which is incredibly difficult. Occasionally there have been successful forgeries, but these invariably get discovered over time, and it doesn’t happen at a scale that anyone would ever need worry about.
Then the printing press arrived, and the whole game changed. All of a sudden, creative works (in this case, books, maps and so on) could be reproduced by anyone with a printing press. If you were the writer or publisher of a book, there wasn’t really much you could do if someone reproduced your work without permission and sold it for their own profits. To stop this happening, in 1710 the first copyright law was introduced, meaning that works could not be reproduced without permission.
Copyright has since been extended to cover all creative works and art forms—music, film, visual arts, and so on. In the past, infringing copyright usually meant making a physical copy of a product, for example copying an album on CD, or reproducing posters of a contemporary art work. It happened, of course, but it was less frequent and more difficult. Today, digital products dominate physical products, and digital products are much easier to copy and distribute. Piracy is rife in music and film, and any digitally based media or art is at high risk of copyright violation.
As a digital creator, right now you are probably worried about falling victim to copyright theft. We have good news–there are steps you can take to minimize your risk, and actions you can take if you do have your work stolen.
A little bit about copyright
As soon as you have created your work, you own the copyright to it—you don’t need to do anything, copyright ownership is automatically yours. As copyright holder, you then have the exclusive right to make copies of this work, to sell and distribute copies, to make works derived from the original, and to publicly display the artwork.
In the U.S., this copyright protection will last for your whole lifetime, plus an additional 70 years. This means that as soon as someone copies your work, you can lodge a copyright infringement claim against them. However, in order to sue someone for copyright infringement, you need to register your copyright.
Registering your copyright
The process for registering your copyright will vary slightly from country to country. In each case, you will need to fill in an application form to file your copyright with the relevant copyright office, and pay a fee. Once your work has been registered, if someone has violated your copyright you will be able to sue them.
It’s a fairly simple process, but if you are registering multiple pieces of digital art, then the costs can really mount up. For a lot of artists, illustrators and designers, this might be an expense that they can’t afford. It also might not necessarily prevent people from stealing your digital work. So, what else can you do to protect your digital work and avoid copyright issues? Let’s take a look.
Protecting your digital artwork
There are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of copyright infringement and prevent someone from stealing your digital art. Even if you have copyright registration, it makes sense to take these steps as taking legal action for a copyright claim can be a time consuming and difficult process.
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Add a watermark
You’ve almost certainly seen a watermark on a photo or artwork before, and it’s a very common way of protecting photographs from being used without permission online. It’s essentially a semi-transparent word that is placed over an image, either once or repeated.
In this way, you don’t need to put your original artwork online, and instead use a watermarked version. If someone wants to purchase the original, then they can contact you. The downside of watermarks is that they don’t look great, but they are pretty effective.
Only upload low res versions of your work. And keep them small.
When you’re uploading your art and images to your own artist website or to other sites, make sure to only upload images that are a maximum of 72dpi. This will prevent people from taking the images and using them in other contexts, for example it will be too low resolution to use in print.
As well as keeping the resolution low, make sure to keep the pixel count low. A 72dpi image is a good start, but if it’s 2500 pixels wide people might still be able to use it, whereas a 300 pixel wide image will be much less useful.
Add a copyright notice
Using the copyright symbol (©) on your artwork serves two purposes. Firstly, it acts as a psychological reminder to the person viewing the artwork that it is under copyright. Oftentimes, people can be unaware of copyright and not really think about it at all. Seeing your name, the symbol and the year the work was created can act as a reminder that the artwork is under copyright and that you intend to enforce it. This should make them think twice about stealing it.
The second purpose is that it can display your name and even your email address. Then, if someone would still like to use the image, they have the opportunity to contact you for it.
Disable the right-click
Like displaying the copyright symbol, disabling the right-click function can act as a clear sign that you do not want to have your image downloaded. This method won't totally protect your art from copyright infringement as a determined thief could still take a screenshot of your work, but for people who might not be thinking that way, disabling the right click can serve as a timely reminder that you don’t want anyone else to be grabbing your images.
Make contacting you easy
Again, if someone is committed to stealing your work, then providing your contact information isn’t going to stop them. However, if someone is a fan of your art and would just like to use it or to purchase it from you, then having an easy way to contact you is going to encourage them to reach out instead of just pinching your art. You could add your email address directly to your image, or even add a simple contact form to your website.
How do I find out if my art has been stolen?
Unless you randomly stumble across your artwork online, you might not even know that it has been stolen. One way to check if your art has appeared anywhere else online is to conduct a Google reverse image search. This is very simple, all you do is upload your image via Google image. Google will then scour the web and pull up any instances where the image appears online, and you can see if someone has used your art or image without permission, and where it has been used.
What should you do if your art has been stolen?
If you do unfortunately find out that your art has been stolen, it might be tempting to go nuclear and pursue legal action straight away. We think this should probably be more of a last resort than a first option.
Your best course of action is to contact the person who has violated your copyright and ask them to take the image down. At this stage, you can also ask them for a licensing fee to continue using the image, or offer to sell them the rights. If the copyright violator doesn’t respond, you could contact the hosting company of the website, or if it has been shared by a social media account, you can contact the company directly to ask them to take the image down, or report the image and try to have it removed that way.
If the copyright violator doesn’t respond to your communication, then at this stage you could pursue legal advice to sue the person who violated the copyright. In order to do this, you will need to have registered your copyright with the relevant copyright office in your country.
There is no doubt about it, having your work stolen sucks big time. Just remember, the law is on your side and there is action you can take. Also, the fact that someone wants to steal your work means you’re doing something right—it’s like a very annoying form of flattery!
In our digital world, piracy and the theft of digital art is all too commonplace. As a digital creator, it is something that you will unfortunately have to take into account, and it’s something that isn’t going away. Thankfully, if you take the steps we’ve outlined then you will be giving yourself the best protection possible.
Now that you know how to protect your work, why not try making your own digital art in Linearity Curve?
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Jonny is a contributing writer to the Linearity Blog.