Anything you draw belongs to you. Anything you photograph belongs to you. Anything you create belongs to you. No one has any right to take, use, sell, or modify any portion of your art without your permission.
I have seen too much of it. ‘World class’ jewelry companies stealing designs from interviewees whose portfolios they’ve seen but who they’ve chosen not to hire. Multi-million (or billion) dollar gaming industries whose graphic design team rips tribal designs off the internet for their characters.
Every. Single. Day… Unsuspecting or uncaring users of t-shirt and swag websites uploading and selling whatever they can copy+paste. I have seen, on my first day at my new job, on the shoulder of a coworker, a tribal design I KNEW was designed by DA user WildSpiritWolf. I also knew the moment I saw it that my coworker was not the client for that design. I had never seen that design before in my life but a quick search on DA confirmed everything I believed to be true. You just know these things, when you see art theft happen on a regular basis.
I strongly believe that 99% of people who steal art aren’t ‘bad people’. We are in an era where it is too easy and socially acceptable to steal art. “SHARE” cries the button that is pasted on virtually every page on the web. “Brighten up your presentations with some relevant images” they tell you in college. “I want to buy a wolf poster for my friend’s birthday,” you might think as you google ‘wolf poster’ and buy the cheapest one you can find on Zazzle. I wouldn’t call these people ‘bad.’ But I would say that their efforts are ignorant, lazy, careless, and feeds into a system in which artists increasingly find their work spread out to the four corners, but their names are slowly fading into the background the further their work travels through the cloud.
We can find anything we want on the internet. We forget that EVERY image was created by someone, once upon a time. Take a generic photo of a tiger, perfect focus, eyes locked onto the viewer’s, prowling steadily toward you through freshly fallen snow… Take it to be your wallpaper, post it on forums, print it on postcards, sell it on t-shirts… We forget to consider the artist. How many photographers are out there with gear costing thousands of dollars, fingers numb from waiting hours for the perfect shot, rifling through hundreds of takes to get to that ONE photo that goes viral? How many hours of his life has that photographer spent? How much money will that photographer make? What does that photographer have to gain, or lose, by posting it on a public forum like DeviantArt?
The arguments, “well I’m not selling it,” “the artist should be flattered that her work is so appreciated/this should be taken as a compliment!”, “what difference does it make?” are no longer valid. Art theft is art theft, regardless of whether you are using an image for a presentation or selling it for profit. Unintentional art theft is still art theft. If you are an artist, or if you have friends who are artists, you are trampling on your own rights or their rights the longer you treat the internet as a grab bag for whatever images you want. Being conscious of your actions take little effort. Here are two lists of suggestions that consumers, and artists, can follow to help this issue:
1. Ask permission to use it. Simple as that. Not only will you likely get the green light, but you can make connections with an artist whose work you appreciate, and the artist can hear about it too.
2. Check to see if the piece really is free. A good assumption to make is unless the music/design/photo is explicitly posted on a free source website, it is not free to use. Just because an image is posted on a free and public forum, such as DeviantArt, it does not mean the image is free to use. *NOTE* this is unfortunately impossible for consumers to know, but some sources posted on free source and even pay-to-use stock image websites are stolen. As in, others sell an artist's work to these websites. I have seen WildSpiritWolf's (poor gal, her work is all over the place) art being sold on sweaters by a husky rescue organization. After speaking with the organization, I learned that they had purchased the design from a stock website.
3. Make agreements and honor them. There are plenty of stock image websites from which you can purchases licenses to use an image. There are plenty of artists who will let you use/sell their designs for free or for a price. There are plenty more who will simply ask that you credit them.
4. Credit/list your sources. A good rule of thumb for professional papers, presentations, and life in general.
5. Commission an artist. If you are interested in profiting, go the extra mile to pay for custom work instead of just taking what is already there, which would be illegal. If you are interested in existing artwork, contact the artist and/or purchase the appropriate licenses for your needs.
6. Apologize. I hear “I didn’t know…” all the time from people copying and even selling my work. My answer is always, “Thank you for telling me. I’m glad that you know now. It’s okay.”
1. Watermark everything. Put the watermark over the centerpiece of your work. Yes, that means right across the wolf’s face on your photograph. For art that is easily modifiable such as linework, upload small files (watermarked) with low resolutions. “But that ruins the image!” or “But I won’t get as many ‘likes!’” you might say. My argument to that is people who truly appreciate your style and the quality of your work, people who might be interested in commissioning you, will be able to see beyond the watermark and your attempts at preventing your work from being stolen.
2. Say “I don’t care” instead of “it doesn’t matter” if you really don’t care. Yes, it does matter because the more artists out there who don’t care, the more consumers think artists don’t care. ALL artists then get short-handed. It’s okay if you want your work to be totally usable and free. Go the extra mile to explicitly say so. That way, the norm for consumers will be to CHECK that it is free, instead of assuming it is.
3. Do not allow downloads. On your website, disable the ability to copy and paste or to right-click. That way, even if people take a screenshot of your work it will likely not be at a resolution that is usable for profit.
4. Copyright your work. Laws depend on where you live but here is the US site: www.copyright.gov/
5. Notify the artist if you recognize his/her work being used somewhere. This is the only way I get informed of my work being stolen, and it happens on a regular basis. My heartfelt thanks goes out to everyone who speaks up. We artists cannot do this without you.
6. Be polite. Most people don't mean to steal, or don't understand the concept of art theft because of how easy it is and how accessible art is these days. Most people will apologize and make amends immediately. Educate instead of berate.
7. DO SOMETHING, if your work has been stolen. Don’t just wave it off as a small offense or else you are promoting the “it doesn’t matter” mindset. I have personally called t-shirt websites and have directly (and politely) asked that my work be removed. I have pressed on and on with Ubisoft to be compensated for my work being used without permission. I have checked and rechecked offending sites. Yes, it is a tedious and frustrating. Yes, my Pokemon tribals are still all over the place. Yes, I did scroll through 21 pages of Zazzle products today to make sure every. single. one. of the products with my design have been reported. It is a never ending battle. It sucks. But it is the only way to prove your existence as the owner of your creation, and to tell ignorant and unassuming consumers: THIS MATTERS.
8. Keep records of your agreements if you sell rights to your work, and read the fine print on contracts. Case in point, Ubisoft drew up a contract concerning use of my work. I was to be compensated $500 and here was one of their terms:
“Section 1. "Definitions", currently reads:“Game” shall mean Ubisoft’s entertainment software product entitled “Far Cry 3” (working title) including add-ons, expansion packs, downloadable content, format conversions, collector editions and/or sequels to the original game.”
Had I signed the contract I would have said “For $500 you can continue to use my design for anything, forever.” Instead I wrote back:
“Could it instead read the following:
“Game” shall mean Ubisoft’s entertainment software product entitled “Far Cry 3” (working title) including add-ons, expansion packs, downloadable content, format conversions and collector editions to the original game."
If you wish to use any of my work in future games, I would be happy to enter into a new licensing agreement.”
So now it reads, “I accept the compensation for what has already been done. You cannot use my work again for any future endeavors.”
(Thank you, my friends in the legal world, for helping me with this.)
9. Understand your rights. And understand that artists are not fighting the winning battle right now. I’ve been told by copyright lawyers and other artists that I could have taken the above case further. So many artists out there can and have sued for much larger sums of money from large companies using their work. Do it, if you can. Me? I don’t have the time or the means to fight that battle. Ubisoft would, if I had chosen that route. Artists are the little guys standing up to Goliaths when it comes to defending our rights. Do what you can. Do SOMETHING.
Thank you for taking the time to read this! I hope it helps.