It can be infuriating when someone has taken an image of your artwork that you’ve shared publicly and used it as their own, or even worse, are selling copies or reproductions. But it’s important to protect yourself and your intellectual property that you take measures upfront to avoid the situation.
Protect the Artwork You Share Art Online
Save a low-resolution version of your artwork.
My personal rule of thumb is 800 pixels wide at 72 dots per inch. A lower resolution image is not acceptable at most on-demand product providers, and if someone tries to enlarge your image, the quality is low.
Add a watermark to the image.
A watermark on the image will help deter an offender from using your artwork. If your artwork has a watermark on it, the infringer would need to remove it, which takes work, in order to use it. It’s a good faith option to help protect your images.
Add a copyright symbol and date to your artwork.
This is the © symbol. You can also add a date to that image.
Keep a visual log of all your digital images on a website.
Your portfolio, or visual log, can be hosted anywhere. You can even post it on your Instagram or Facebook page if you don’t’ have a website and take a screenshot of your portfolio page periodically. Additionally, you can use the Wayback Machine to keep an official log of your web pages. “First to Use” proof of an image is the most reliable proof of ownership. To do this, go to the Wayback Machine, which is the Internet Archive, enter the web address of the webpage where you saw your images, then click “Save Page Now.”
By requesting that the Internet Archive periodically take a snapshot of your portfolio pages, you are adding a little extra insurance. It’s important to say that the Wayback Machine will not index social media accounts due to volume. But they will archive your website. I speak from experience that this method works. I won an intellectual property lawsuit because I was able to prove through the Internet Archive that I had the first usage of a trademark.
Don’t Allow Downloads on Your Website
Most website platforms will allow you to disable downloads of images. This can be done by disabling the ability to “right-click” an image. If you are using WordPress, there is a plugin called WP Content Copy Protection & No Right Click that can help you protect images on your website. However, this doesn’t prevent someone from taking a screenshot of the image and editing it. So technically, you can’t prevent all downloads from your website, but by disabling the right-click feature, you are making it harder to do so.
Register Your Artwork with the Library of Congress.
You can register your artwork at Copyright.gov. The library of congress protects many types of visual artworks. “Works of the visual arts include a wide variety of pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works, as well as architectural works. Examples of visual arts works include paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other types of works.” You may submit up to 10 works of art as a group for one registration or a single work of art. At the time of this article, the cost to register ten works is $55, and an individual work is $35. Check with the Library of Congress for updated fees. Click here to register your visual artwork.
Below is a short video explaining what can be copyrighted and how to go about submitting your artwork.
What to Do If Someone Steals Your Artwork
Even with the best precautions, it’s sometimes unavoidable. There is always opportunist, and the truth is, it’s difficult, timely, and costly to pursue damages once your artwork has been stolen. But if you find yourself a victim, here are my recommendations.
Take Screenshots of the usage of your artwork on the infringer’s website or social media account.
When you take a screenshot, there is a timestamp on the image that can help prove the date of usage, should you need to show unauthorized usage in the future.
Ensure there is an Official Archive Showing Misuse
Go to the Wayback Machine, which is the Internet Archive, enter the web address of the webpage where you saw your images, then click “Save Page Now.”
Send them a Formal Cease and Desist Notice
If you see that someone is using your images for personal benefit, you can ask them to stop using it. It is best to use a formal request and to keep track of any interaction or dialog. Also, it is highly recommended that you contact an Intellectual Property Attorney to assist with recovering any damages you may have received as a result of the infringement.
Below is an example Cease and Desist letter you can use as a first step.
Art Business Name
City, State Zip/Postal Code
RE: Copyright Infringement
It has been determined that you are currently using (describe the item being reproduced or used without permission) hereafter referred to as (the ‘Work”) without our/my authorization. The Work is copyrighted with Title 17 of the United States Code.
We have found the unauthorized use of the Work being displayed at (enter the website or social media site, along with the account).
If we have not received an acknowledgment response from you within 15 days of the receipt of this notice indicated that you have fully complied with these requirements, I shall proceed with the appropriate legal action available to rectify the situation.
Your Name Here
Artist Business Name Here
It’s Hard to Protect Your Art
I didn’t say it was easy. But there are several measures you can take to protect your artwork and intellectual property. No one solution is going to solve the issue. There are opportunists out there who will push the boundaries and take advantage of our laziness and limitations.
Even you are protected by copyright in one country; you may not be protected world-wide. So there is also the issue of International copyright laws.
The best we can do as artists is to take as many precautions as possible, in case someone ends up making bank on our work, we have the tools and proof that would need to proceed with legal action.
Don’t Let This Stop You from Creating and Sharing Your Art
With all of this said, most artists create joy and fulfillment. Even though many of us use our art to make a living or earn extra income, I think it’s important not to let the fear of someone stealing our ideas and even our art keep us from creating. I’m reminded of the Serenity Prayer when it comes to situations like this.
Now go create some art… but don’t forget to protect it!
NOTE: I am not an attorney. These are just resources, suggestions and opinions. If you need legal advice I recommend reaching out to an Intellectual Property Attorney in your area.