How do we protect our art?

Yet another story goes out about someone using someone else’s art without permission. It’s a hard place to sit with this topic because no matter the answer or the plan of action, it’s just a frustrating, nerve wracking and often down right depressing situation to find one’s work used without the artist giving the thumbs up to do so.

I think the question isn’t just how do we protect our work – it’s also how to we manage and react when it’s used without our permission?

Being an artist with literally hundreds of pieces online, due to the way the Print on Demand industry works as far as promotion and sales of art, I’ve had to deal and work with the reality that every piece I sell is available to view online. We watermark our designs, only offer small viewable versions, etc. but people steal the work regardless. I’ve seen my designs on other items in etsy, ebay, others’ websites, online ads, an online video game… and even a few tattoos. Ever instance makes me stop and wonder why I sell online. It’s flattering to have someone else like our work enough to want to use it.. that’s part of what art is all about. However, from the artist perspective it’s also horribly frustrating at the same time. From our view is like taking our lunch… we don’t walk up and take your sandwich and claim it’s ours to eat.

Please Ask before you use an artist's work

You can do your best and do all the right steps to protect your work, but if someone wants to take it, they’ll find a way – lawful or not – and it doesn’t just happen with online work; it’s just easier to see it when it’s online (for them and you).There are a few things  you can do to become more proactive so when you need to be reactive, you’re prepared.

Educate and inform others that your art isn’t free to use
The first step to not assume everyone knows using art is wrong. Sure, we can assume people know, but really not everyone realizes that just because they see something doesn’nt mean they have permission to use it. So education is important. Spread the word that art isn’t free. Take into consideration where your art is found and inform the user of how art work is used – politely. I usually by begin assuming the user doesn’t understand that art isn’t free, rather that run after them with a pitch fork. I’ve gained links and credit back to my work by having this friendlier approach. With so many free clipart sites and sharing going on, for some users, they really don’t understand there is a difference. In my opinion that doesn’t mean we hide our work, but rather we should be educating the public that they need to ask first.

Network and share so you grow a fan base of friends who want to also protect your work
For me, the best help has been to make my work known as much as possible so that when my art does appear somewhere I didn’t put it, I might have a better chance of hearing and doing something about it. I’ve made myself accessible through not only my email and website contact info, but various locations (facebook, twitter, linkedin, etc.)– so when someone sees my work somewhere “new”, I might receive info about it – and usually its a “hey Jen, cool that your design is…”. Just about every place I’ve found my work that it wasn’t supposed to be, someone else told me it was there. It’s then, of course, my job to have it removed and deal with the situation

Networking is an amazing resource for art awareness as far as finding your work where it shouldn’t be.  Example… One person saw my penguin on an ad on facebook – facebook didn’t create the ad, a user submission created it. I never saw the ad because it was set up to view only in certain geographic locations. So, I sent a message via Twitter asking if anyone else had seen the ad – I did the same in facebook. A few others had replied. I then asked each person that saw the ad to take screen shots – it was only then, after I have visual documentation, that I sent a C&D to facebook and had the ad removed. A couple months later I had to do it all over again – but without my networking of contacts knowing my art, I never would have known.

Be willing to share and allow some use if it’s beneficial
Something else I have done, realizing people want to use my art for certain types of things – I used to see a lot of cut and paste type displays of my characters on myspace pages and friend things….. So instead of hiding everything I’ve created (because I can’t) – I created a website specifically for that type of use. <– people are allowed to post these images for their friends and on their profile pages. A side note to this, that freebie site is my #1 traffic referrer to my shopping site, so those of you that might be thinking you can’t make money when you hand out art for free… Yes, you can – it’s ike the sample lady at the grocery store giving bitefuls of yummy donuts.

Free art here monkey by JGoode

When it does happen, react quickly
Keep records of when and where you find your work used, take screen shots and document the use. I have a standard Cease and Desist (C&D) I send out that usually gets results within a few days. Protecting legally, I think, is the first step – what happens after that makes a difference in whether or not you can really keep hold of your art.

Help Eachother
Take time to get to know each other’s art and be proactive when you see something someone else did, some place it doesn’t seem to belong. We’ve got to work together to help protect our art.

6 thoughts on “How do we protect our art?”

  1. This is a great post! You really put it well, don't overreact, educate. Be polite. You attitiude is great!

  2. Great post! Your approach of keeping level headed about it and educating is very good advice. I like your idea of freebies, too! Thanks.

  3. I have recently been creating art for a band they used one of my designs for a tshirt and all i got was a free shirt. How do I go about promoting my art to bands without giving it away.

  4. I have recently been creating art for a band they used one of my designs for a tshirt and all i got was a free shirt. How do I go about promoting my art to bands without giving it away.

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