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« Artist Web Sites: Burning Questions (and Answers) | Main | Art Business: Art Inventory and Contact/ Mailing List »

Artist Web Sites: Protecting Your Content & Images From Theft

It's an epidemic.  People are having their content and images stolen and used on other websites and on other products and services.

Sadly, it seems that it's not a question of if your work or images will be stolen, it's a question of when. With technology today it's possible to grab anything you see on your computer screen.  Taking legal action can be time-consuming and expensive, but a few precations can go a long way towards slowing down the thieves:

  1. Copyright your work and images, individually or as a group. It's not expensive or difficult. You will need to gather info about each image to document it. If you've got your artist inventory set up and current, it's a piece of cake.

    Yes, your copyright exists from the moment the work is created, but "...if you want to sue someone in federal court for copyright infringement, your work must first be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office."  

  2. The way you prepare your images can help protect them. Make sure the images you use on your website are the smallest file size possible that still look good. Why? Besides loading more quickly and making for a smoother browsing experience for your visitors, a small file size means that the theives won't be able to use the image for much of anything.  

  3. Another way to protect your online and print images is to watermark them with copyright info or a logo, large enough to see and over an area of the image that would pretty much make the image unusable if the copyright info was cropped out.  Slow thieves down down by making it difficult for them to use your images.

  4. Use your name (or company name) in the file name, along with the name of the image, like "JohnDoe-Springtime." If someone steals and uses an image on the web, at least the file name will ID you and you can use Google to search for images by putting in your name. That will help you FIND the thieves.

  5. If you find an image that is being used without your permission, the first step is to contact the user with a "cease and desist" letter. That usually works. If not, you can pursue other avenues if you want. If you don't, at least the image is identifiable as yours and think of it as free advertising.

  6. Use Copyscape or a similar service to search the web for your content.

  7. To take legal action, get some advice from a good copyright attorney first. Read this article by attorney Michelle Fabio on Blogging and Intellectual Property Law to learn more.

More resources:

US Library of Congress - United States Copyright office for copyright registration.  


Stolen Content - Content protection and what to do in case of theft.

Creative Commons - Non-profit organization providing creative licenses for image works. 



If you would, please, help us all protect our work by sharing any resources/ideas/comments you have on this topic by leaving a comment on the blog.


All my best to you and yours,

Robin Signature Image   

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P.S. If you're like me and love to have great resources around, I suggest you get on the email list for Aletta de Wal's new book "My Real Job Is Being An Artist: What You Should Know Before You Quit Your Day Job (Or Get One)."  It'll be published later this year. I've read it, it's fabulous, and will be ordering 10 copies for family and friends. Honest. It's not just one size fits all "how to" or cheerleaderish "self help." It will help you get really clear about where you are and what YOUR most effective next steps are. Email me to get on the notification list, and get special goodies too!     


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Reader Comments (3)

Nice article, Robin. I agree with everything but #3. Not a fan of watermarking - why share at all if you're going to deface the image? I don't, however, mind credit in the lower portion or side of an image - or an add on space below the image (if that makes sense).

One thing to keep in mind is that if images are uploaded into Facebook (perhaps other sites as well), FB renames the file, so your image file name wouldn't be found on Facebook.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlyson Stanfield

#1 takes care of almost everything. If you register a copyright there are (I think) statutory damages that you can seek - you don't have to prove any damages. In fact, registration is the step that let the world know you are "serious" about your copyright (and prior to the 70s was a mandatory step). The thing I don't understand, so many artists don't do it? Why? Isn't the work worth it? It would make any copyright action so much stronger and it's a step almost nobody I know takes. (I'm not a lawyer, btw)

A minor point - while I understand why people use the word "theft", copyright infringement is not theft, it's copyright infringement. Otherwise, you could just prosecute copyright infringement under theft laws. If copyright infringement was theft, then googlebot is "stealing" your images every time it indexes an artist's website and uses those images is google image search.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClint Watson

Hi Alyson: Thanks for the info, I had forgotten about FB changing the links and appreciate your mentioning it. I know that watermarking images does deface them, so it can be a difficult line to walk - to watermark or not. I don't always but sometimes the artist requests it and I do think it can help when using higher resolution images. I have one artist (photographer) who has had work stolen, and now she asks me to watermark all her work and hasn't had any problems since. So, I do think it can be helpful.

Hey there Clint: I agree with you and also wonder why more artists don't copyright their work. It's not expensive and if they are keeping an updated inventory of their work (with the type of info the copyright form includes) it can be fast and easy to fill out the forms. You're right about the definition of copyright infringement. The copyright office says: "copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner." I use the word theft in a general sense, I think the readers will know what I mean, and appreciate your clarification.

January 27, 2012 | Registered CommenterRobin Sagara

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