After almost a decade of being an artist, there’s one thing I see and deal with more often than I’d like to admit: art theft. We talked about how to prevent copyright infringement as a growing artist a few weeks ago. And, today you’ll learn how to prevent and defend your art from others infringing on your copyrights.
1. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS AND DEFEND YOUR ART
Every so often I hear growing artists say that they wouldn’t be upset if someone stole their art. That they’d be flattered.
That it would mean their art was good enough to be stolen.
But, that perception only lasts for so long. Once someone actually steals their art, they no longer take it as a compliment, but an attack on their copyright.
And rightfully so.
You have rights to your art from the moment you create it. And you also have the right to defend it from others who wish to abuse your creations.
[Note: Even so, whenever possible, make sure to register and copyright your creations for further protection.]
I create many fan arts on different topics and the most popular ones feature Markiplier and Jacksepticeye.
A while ago someone used my art of these youtubers in a Youtube video without permission or linking back to my gallery.
When I asked him to credit me for the art – someone else jumped in and told me that the youtuber in question could do whatever he wanted because since I had drawn fanart of people I didn’t own, I couldn’t claim copyright over my own art – and thus, everyone could use my art as they pleased.
Can I get a “Hell, no!”?
Don’t let anyone mislead you! You have both the copyright and the right to defend your art if you don’t like the way in which someone has used it.
This particular story had a happy ending and I’ve worked with that youtuber in multiple projects since.
The issue was that random user trying to convince me that I didn’t have ownership over my own art and that anyone could use it.
People will try to manipulate you into giving up your rights and you have to stay strong and defend your rights if someone has infringed on them.
2. PREVENT ONLINE ART THEFT
The best thing you can do to save yourself a few unnecessary headaches is to prevent and dissuade thieves from stealing your art.
The best way to do this is by adding a visible watermark to your works before you share them online.
But, don’t add a watermark that is small, hard to see and easy to crop out.
Ideally, your watermark should:
- Have your username (if you have the same one across all your social media) or your main gallery’s address.
- Be easy to see and read, so that just by looking at your watermark, people can find your online gallery
- Be in a place where it can’t possibly be cropped out without ruining the piece
- Have reduced opacity so that people can easily see it but not be too distracting
Here’s a sample of one of my artworks. The arrows show the position of all the watermarks I included in the piece.
If you can, be sure to upload small files to your online galleries and keep the high-res file for yourself. That will make it harder for thieves to profit off your art in most cases.
3. FIND OUT IF SOMEONE HAS STOLEN YOUR ART
Most of the times, someone will warn you that your art has been stolen and point you in the right direction to find the thief.
But, if you don’t want to wait until someone else stumbles upon stolen copies of your art and you want to take the initiative, there are a few things you can do.
1. Search for the main keywords you used in your art
You need to do a Google search using the keywords that describe your piece the best.
When I want to check if my Markiplier, Jacksepticeye and/or Five Nights at Freddy’s fanarts have been stolen, I search for the main keywords in each piece:
- Markiplier FNAF fanart
- Markiplier Jacksepticeye fanart
- FNAF fanart
Alternatively, you can try searching for your piece’s title and see what shows up.
2. Search for your username
This is another good option. If they downloaded the image from your site, your username is probably included in the name of the file.
So, it will be easier to find stolen copies by using your username.
However, this may trigger all of your official and legal art to show up, so you’ll have to filter the results.
Most of my art is posted on deviantART and, oddly enough, that’s also the place where people steal & repost my art the least.
So, to make it easier to spot stolen copies, I’ll tell Google not to show me any result from deviantART.
To do this, all I have to do is search for: rydi1689 –deviantart
Or, in your case: [Username] –[Website you want to omit in the search results]
And it will automatically filter the results and show everything but deviantART content. Now, I can browse around the content and notice stolen content faster.
Filter your own results to spot stolen copies of your art faster!
4. UH, OH! SOMEONE HAS STOLEN YOUR ART – NOW WHAT?
Once you’ve found out someone has stolen your art you need to take action. But what action?
Here’s what not to do:
- Don’t make a fuss in public. You’ll only look like a crazy maniac (I should know…)
- Don’t tell everyone to go shame that person (it could get you in trouble)
- Don’t urge your followers to report the stolen work, they’ll slow the Help Desk down and you might even get them in legal trouble
Ok, so what do you do?
First of all, stay calm. Assess the level of urgency it has and take action accordingly.
If you’ve found someone stealing your art but it’s 2 am and you have to get up early to go to school/work/other – don’t even think about dealing with it right now.
Go to bed and once you’re free the next day, after taking care of your priorities, take any necessary measures to defend your art.
However, if the situation requires immediate action – for example, because someone is actively selling your art or otherwise making a profit from it – you shouldn’t wait. But, in this case, skip the small talk and submit a DMCA takedown notice directly.
As a general rule of thumb, you should try to get the thief to remove the stolen material voluntarily before taking further measures. Let them know that they don’t have permission to repost your art or use it in any way. Ask them to take it down as soon as possible.
However, if they don’t reply in a few days – or worse, they get defensive and start insulting you or blocking anyone who tells them to remove the work, don’t fall for their bait.
Do not reply. Skip to the next step.
5. SUBMITTING A DMCA TAKEDOWN NOTICE TO DEFEND YOUR ART
So what is it exactly? The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a United States copyright law that protects copyrighted content online. You can read more about it here.
“The DMCA’s principal innovation in the field of copyright is the exemption from direct and indirect liability of Internet service providers and other intermediaries.”
Any website where your art has been stolen or used without your permission won’t be liable for any claims of copyright infringement so long as they remove or block access to the alleged infringing content as soon as they receive the DMCA takedown notice.
So, if your art has been stolen and you submit a DMCA takedown notice, the website where the infringing artwork is will remove it as soon as they receive the notice.
To submit a DMCA takedown notice follow the next steps
1. Find the page to submit your DMCA takedown notice
They usually can be found on the website’s FAQ, Terms of Service or on their own ‘Copyright’ page. If you can’t find it, use the site’s search box or Google to find it (ie. Website’s name + DMCA)
2. Fill in the form with your personal information
It needs to be your real information, providing false or incorrect information could have legal consequences. Add your name, address, phone, email and any other info they request.
3. Gather your evidence
Add links to the infringing work and to your original artwork. Add any other information, screenshots or evidence that proves you are the copyright owner and they are the ones infringing on your rights.
4. Read and agree to the legal statements & add your signature
These statements are important, read and understand them before continuing. Sign and deliver the notice once you’re done.
Depending on the website, it can take from a couple of hours to a couple of days for them to receive the notice and remove the stolen artwork.
- Only you can get the artwork removed as the copyright holder. Don’t tell your followers to report the artwork – that will only slow the process down.
- If they place a DMCA takedown notice on an artwork they have no copyright over, they could get in legal trouble. Why? Because they stated under penalty of perjury that they did.
- The website may forward your personal information and claim to the infringing party. The infringing party may use that information to contact you to discuss the claim. In some cases, they will only forward your information if the infringing party requests it.
- If the infringing party believes they have the right to use the artwork, they can file a counter-claim. In some cases, you may have to settle the issue in court.
- In some instances, their use of the work might be protected under Fair Use
- Stating on their page or description that their use of your work falls under Fair Use doesn’t mean it’s true. If it doesn’t adhere to the requirements specified to be considered Fair Use, that notice won’t have any value.
Don’t abuse your power. You have the right to defend your art, but that doesn’t mean you have to take action everytime. If the use of the work isn’t negatively affecting you, simply request the person in question to credit and link back to you. It will redirect traffic your way.
Many people use my art on Youtube videos, with or without my permission. Sometimes, even without credit. I don’t like coming across people using my art without permission in their videos… But, if I started filing DMCA takedown notices on them all, the community would be upset at me. It would backlash on my channel and I don’t want that. So, I just tell them to ask for permission, credit and link back to my channel.
It’s important to protect your reputation and career as well as your art.
However, I wouldn’t let anyone repost my art to the same platform where my work is already posted. The use of the work in this case is affecting me by taking exposure away from my original piece.
So, remember to assess the urgency and level of harm of each individual case before taking action.
Now you have all you need to avoid infringing on others’ copyrights as well as protecting yours from other people who might infringe on them!
Remember that you…
- Have copyright to your art from the moment you create it. But you won’t always have copyright to all elements included in it if you’re doing fanart
- Have the right to defend your art if you don’t like the way someone has used it and their use of your work doesn’t fall under fair use
- Should strive to have a civilized conversation with the thief. Convince them to remove the work voluntarily
- Shouldn’t fall for their bait and fight with the thief about it. Simply submit a DMCA takedown notice to have the website remove the work.
- Must not provide false information in your DMCA takedown notice. Nor submit one for artwork you have no copyright over. And definitely don’t ask others to file a DMCA takedown notice for you. Only your attorney or another legal representative can do it on your behalf.
What was your biggest takeaway from this post? Did you know about these ways to protect and defend your art from thieves?
Is there anything else you’d like me to include or address in this post? Let me know in the comments below!
I did all that! Art thief was selling stickers of my dachshund image on Amazon US, stolen from Red Bubble where most of my art is posted. I am in the UK so issued a DMCA and it was taken down. Six months later he counterclaimed, I was given 10 days to issue a lawsuit. A solicitor advised I should try to engage with him by email. I asked how many he'd sold and the total value. He told me 28 sold and asked if I'd registered with the US copyright office. I told him I did not need to do that as copyright was automatic in the UK on publication. He did not respond so I sent him an invoice and said as long as he paid it (due immediately) and did not relist the item there would be no further action. I gave him a couple of days to respond but he didn't, so I tried to contact the same lawyer who had given me advice and asked if we could now please act – no response. Contacted other lawyers with messages. Two said they couldn't take it on at the moment and 2 haven't responded after I was promised a call back. Running out of time I emailed the Amazon legal team asking where I stood if my lawsuit was issued late. they responded saying if I want legal advice get it from somewhere else. So now I'm stuck. I have one day left.
Hey Margaret! That's awful. I'm sorry you've had your art stolen and that the thief is exploiting the legal system to get away with it. Artists, as usual, are left unprotected against those who want to abuse them and their art for their own gain.
I imagine the thief and the lawyers are thinking the same. That you'll lose more by pursuing this than you could gain, so the thief is counterclaiming knowing you'll struggle to take him to court, and the lawyers are ignoring you knowing that even if they present the case, the earnings just won't make this worth their while.
It sucks. If you want to pursue this, even if to teach this thief a lesson, I would try finding a lawyer that specializes in Intellectual Property rather than an attorney that focuses on other types of cases. I can't guarantee that they'll take it on, but you may just find someone who wants to put that thief in his place.
I'm not fully sure what happens if you don't sue him on time. I believe Amazon will reinstate the listing with your stolen artwork and you may not be able to file another DMCA takedown on it.
You could still take him to court at anytime though. And if you do and you win, you could probably show the ruling to Amazon and have the listing removed again. But I'm not 100% sure.
If you haven’t done so already, go and watermark all of your images on your redbubble account and only upload small, low-res files that can’t be used by others. It’s the only way to make sure that even if they steal the image, they won’t be able to profit from it much due to the bad quality, watermarks and the websites having minimum size/quality requirements to accept listings.
Best of luck! I hope you’re able to get that thief banned from Amazon!