As an artist, the single most important part of your online presence is the imagery. You want it to look professional, to stand out, to reflect your brand and be an accurate representation of the original piece. And you want tastemakers like bloggers and magazine editors to fall in love with it and help it get more and more attention.
(Keep reading for some specific ideas for protecting your art on the web.)
But the sad, seedy side of the internet is that this can open your work up to being stolen. I’ve heard countless horror stories of people’s original art being used on a company’s tote bags or tee shirts without the artist knowing or allowing it. And while you can’t stop this entirely, there are some things you can do to protect your copyright. I’m going to go at this from the perspective of American artists because those are the laws I understand best. You will have to do some research to find out if your own country has similar laws. And when you’re talking about someone in a different country stealing your designs, the international cross-border laws get even more confusing.
One of the things that I think people fail to talk about is the point behind protecting your images. Partly it’s because you deserve to see the profits that come from your art. You created the piece so you should reap any benefits it provides. But also there is an underlying discussion about the value of art, and moreover the value of an artist. I firmly believe that art is a valuable part of society (and, more warmly, of our lives) and that artists are gifted in a way that others aren’t and that is to be celebrated and respected. Plenty of people agree with me and plenty of people don’t – or are just apathetic. And by enforcing our copyright, artists can stand up to these latter two types of people and take a stride toward them understanding art. So I believe that protecting your copyright doesn’t just protect your bank account, but also has a lot to do with the way art is valued overall.
That being said, I’ve found solutions that work pretty well and I’d like to share them with you to help more artists safely publish images on the web.
This is most people’s solution to the copyright problem. And I’ll say it’s effective. It’s difficult, though not impossible, to get rid of a watermark. Even someone who doesn’t download the image, but rather screenshots it, keeps the watermark on the image. But it’s not my favorite solution because it turns off a lot of bloggers and other people who set trends and can make your work go viral. If you decide to use a watermark, the best way to up your chances of still getting it seen around the web is to make the watermark barely noticeable. So not plastered largely across your entire image. But rather, small, discreet, in the center maybe along the edge of the tree or a line. If you put it off to the side or at the top or bottom, it can be cropped out pretty easily. But if it’s right in the middle, it’s sticking around. At least if the design is stolen, everyone will know who it was stolen from!
2. Meta Data.
When you are editing your image, before you go publishing it around the internet, one of the best things you can do for it is to add data into the code. This data will then travel with the image until someone alters it, which rarely happens. While this doesn’t protect against screenshots, it is the best protection against people who download your image. I believe you can even change the settings so that the image is read-only which would mean no one can edit the data you’ve implanted into the image. Data you’d want to add of course is your name (or business name) and the title of the piece. I also find it helpful to add a website address and tag the image with a few keywords (always thinking about easy SEO!). Just don’t clutter it with too much data – some programs will pull the data for certain uses and it can look really unprofessional if you have all your materials listed, the date the piece was finished, the location it was created in, and you know your mother’s maiden name or something. Keep it clean.
3. Disable Right Click.
There’s code you can insert on your website that makes it so people can’t right click on your images, thus disabling the Save As button. I find this is mostly a protection against people who aren’t thinking about copyright and need a reminder that the image isn’t free to use anywhere they like just because it’s in front of them. Someone who is genuinely trying to steal your work won’t be bothered by this and will find plenty of other ways to grab your image.
4. Reverse Image Search.
Use my thoroughly-explained technique for finding where your image is being used elsewhere on the internet. This is a great one for a piece that’s gotten popular around the web. You’ll quickly find where you don’t want your images hanging out and can “lay the smack down” as my brother used to say in his days of watching Wrestlemania.
5. Cease and Desist.
In the law world, there’s a simple letter called a Cease and Desist Order that acts as a notice and a warning for someone improperly using your images. You can Google a sample letter and adapt for your own use or hire an attorney to help you craft one that is iron-clad. While you don’t have to issue a cease & desist to be able to prosecute someone in court, it’s considered polite to do so and can save both parties a lot of legal fees. Often the offender will simply apologize and remove the images as requested.
If things are out of hand with someone, you can simply hire a lawyer who works with copyright infringement and go to town. It’ll be costly, but can make the statement you want and if you win, depending on the situation sometimes they’ll pay you enough in damages to cover your legal fees.
7. Talking About It.
This is one of my favorites because it’s so often overlooked. People are more likely to walk away from stealing your images if you are open about the ideas of copyright. If you have a copyright notice as a caption or in the description of all your images. If you occasionally blog about your feelings on copyright. If you just stay open and communicative about the issue, people are less likely to take your work. This is partly because you’re no longer an easy target (they know you’ll be looking out for infringement) and partly because of guilt (hey – we’re all human).
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather the solutions I know of that are worth mentioning. If you have other means of protecting your copyright, please share them in the comments so we can all benefit from your experience.