Digital Theft and Art: What do you do if someone steal’s your art?

I remember how wary I felt about posting my artwork online. Will people like it? What if I get bad comments? What if people tell me my work sucks?

Navigating fears of rejection are difficult. This alone prevents many, many artists from sharing their work with the world. But this isn’t our only concern.

What are our rights as artists to the visuals we post?

Rejection was scary enough to consider, but now the perceived inevitable could occur: what if someone steals my work?!

It does happen. Artists find an image of their painting sold on a website making prints. Large companies stealing imagery they find online to create pattern designs or jewelry knock-offs. I’ve read about it. And then there are the big scary social media companies we must work with to share our art with the world. What if they steal our art? What happens then?

As if potential rejection wasn’t difficult to face, when most artists think about this they give up the idea of sharing their art in the first place.

I conduct a lot of interviews with Artist Think, as many of you know. And I’m astounded by the number of artists who hold back from promoting themselves via social media, or via websites like mine, because “someone might steal my art.” My heart sinks when I observe this and I want to reach out. But this isn’t about digital theft. This is about creative mindset.

How much do we hold back our inner creativity, that inner joyful child who loves to make, because of fears like we discuss today?

In the end, I can always find artists willing to share their story and their art, so it doesn’t directly impact me, but this mindset truly hurts artists. In fact, I often see it is an excuse so that artists never really have to try to market or promote their artwork. The rationale is as follows:

“If I have a value-based ideology against people stealing my work it’s okay not to share it, or it’s okay to place watermarks that are so large no one can actually see the artwork. Because, I’m protecting my work.”

I was there once, in my early stages of social media feeling the fear everyone else did: “Facebook is going to steal my art.” I even wrote an article about it. Now, I feel a bit silly about it, because it’s part of a fear-mongering attitude that discourages artists from sharing their art. It’s also honest: I’ve felt that fear and discomfort at the idea of some social media company stealing my art.

Sharing and Success

Then I interviewed people like Gwenn Seemel, who showed me even with her conscious choice to “uncopyright” her art, she is making a full-time living from her art.

I also think of HONY — Humans of New York, an amazing photography project that wouldn’t exist if Brandon hadn’t shared his images on social media. It’s given him world wide reach and the opportunity to do some amazing things in his life, as well as impact others.

A new artist also comes to mind that I just read about. Her name is CJ Hendry and she has built a huge following on Instagram. She was working 15 hour days to get artwork out and share it with the world. And guess what, now her artwork sells for as much as her one year salary working at a boutique in Australia. She was found through Instagram, because she chooses to share her art.

Artists often feel a lot of fear around their rights to their artwork. What about creating a plan of action to help you navigate the potential obstacle?!

Let’s look at this in it’s worst case scenario: what is the worst that will actually come from you sharing your artwork online?

What do you think Facebook would do with your artwork? They are a company worth so much money, I can’t even imagine it. They are fully concerned with their bottom dollar, which means big, systemic changes to things like their Facebook Ads to increase their profit. Why would they want any artist’s artwork? What would they do with it?

I try to imagine what use they’d have for an image of Starry Night and I draw a blank. When I ask myself this question now it kind of makes me giggle. I feel a bit sheepish for thinking my artwork, some of which has been exhibited in prestigious galleries, is going to be used by Facebook.

Can you please share the story of an artist whose career was completely destroyed by a company or someone stealing their artwork? If you know one, please, email me. Please, share it in the comments. Because right now I have no opposing evidence that suggests even if awful, illegal stealing does happen, that it’s the absolutely end of the world.

Do you know what is actually the end of the world? Your decision not to create or not to share your art with others; all out of fear based dialogues like above.

Making art is a choice. So is how we deal with the obstacles we face as artists.

This negativity around sharing artwork is more likely a mask for artists’ general disdain for marketing. This is fine. You do not have to market. But if you wish to make a living from your art, you must share and show your art. If you wish to share and sell your art, or exhibit it in galleries, you must market your art. ALL artists who make a living from their art market. Salvador Dali was a walking advertisement of his brand. We revere his artwork as important and skillful today, we don’t hold him in disdain for his antics (cough, cough, marketing).

Keeping your (He)Artwork Safe

There is such thing as copyright, and it exists as soon we create the work. However, if we are truly fearful about someone stealing our art, we can easily file an additional notice of copyright to protect our artwork. (This is true in the USA).

Additionally images online do NOT need to be high resolution. This is an easy preventative measure for your work to be protected. Companies cannot work with small images if they plan to create patterns or jewelry designs from your image. People can steal your small image, but it won’t be of the quality needed to be uploaded illegally to a licensing site like RedBubble.

You can always put away your paintbrushes forever, but we all know how well that works out for everyone. We create art for ourselves, and to connect with others. Choosing not to share our artwork isn’t just a rejection of a somewhat faulty system, it’s a rejection of ourselves.

Pencils are prettier used, not stored away in boxes, waiting for attention.

I know how important art is for the world, and for the people who make it: making art makes the world a better place. We experience less stress, we connect more with other people, and it offers a means of coping during difficult times. Too many people remain in a holding pattern of fear rather than choose their creative interests. Don’t let today’s obstacles be your excuse, because that is what they are: avoidance behaviors for doing what you feel called to do, but are scared to embrace.

I can’t promise you no one will steal your art, but I can assure you by choosing never to share your work, or placing watermarks that are so large we cannot see your art, your work will never get the credit it probably deserves.

Will someone steal your art if you share it online? Maybe. In fact, the better answer is to assume yes. More importantly, you need to decide what you will do about it the day you see it happen. Creating an action plan will help alleviate the helplessness and frustration you will feel if this happens. Be proactive about your fears so you can move forward with the celebration your art deserves!

MOST importantly, you need to choose your art, your heart, and your desire to create. When we create we want to share it with loved ones, with friends, and sometimes even with the world at large. Stop using social media policies and fears of “what ifs” from doing your work.

Your creative spark is valuable and important for the entire world. Choose to share it with others.

If you choose not to share your work because of these concerns, you are the thief: you hold the rest of us back from enjoying and celebrating your creative achievements.

“Choosing not to share our artwork isn’t just a rejection of a somewhat faulty system, it’s a rejection of ourselves.” (Click to Tweet)

ARTIST THINK ACTION: What will be your strategy to deal with digital theft of your artwork? Share your plan of action below. Let’s build a resource for everyone living with this fear so we all know and act on this truth: our art is worth sharing with the world.

(Full disclosure: I am NOT a lawyer, have no plans to be one, nor have consulted a lawyer for this article. If you want to learn more about proper procedures for copyrighting artwork in your home country please consult appropriate parties. Again, don’t let fear stop you from addressing this problem. Create a solution and plan of action to promote and celebrate your art. You deserve it.)

Original article appeared on Artist Think.

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