Here’s How Artists Can Play An Active Part In Preventing Art Theft

Image by Tom Eversley

Art theft means different things to different people.

Some imagine a thief breaking into a gallery, taking physical art off the wall, and selling it on the black market.

To others, art theft is about intellectual property rights. Someone taking screenshots of an online portfolio and passing the work off as their own to gain a huge following online.

Whether physical or digital, art theft is big business. Interpol has a registry of 51,000 stolen works of art. And 64% of professional photographers had work stolen over 200 times in 2016.

Artists suffer when their work is physically stolen, used without their permission, or otherwise copied and counterfeited. But artists can also play a role in helping to prevent such theft thanks to new technology.

Here’s how:

Understand art theft is retroactive.

New ways to register and track art — such as blockchain distribution and licensing for digital art — are making it easier than ever to keep tabs on artwork.

But the response to art theft is still largely retroactive.

When it comes to digital art, artists are constantly putting out fires, fighting battles against thieves who want to use their work for free.

It’s not uncommon to find a fake Instagram account or website operated by someone swiping photos of artwork and passing them off as their own.

And physical art isn’t much better.

At the Blockchain Art Collective, we have made progress creating a unique, physical-digital link between the art and its registration on blockchain. But that still doesn’t prevent theft. It simply makes it much more difficult for thieves to resell the piece if it’s been registered as stolen.

Artists can help change theft by advertising their authentication process.

When artists get the word out about how they authenticate their work, they can help keep their work from being stolen or improperly used in the first place.

Increased awareness in the art community and the general public about an artist’s authentication process is a preventative measure to theft. It creates an environment where people understand how to check whether a work is authentic before they buy it, hang it, or even like it on Instagram.

If dealers know to check for a blockchain-registered CryptoSeal because that’s how the artist authenticates their work, then the decision to purchase becomes much simpler. If the seal is attached to the piece, they can check its unique identity on blockchain. If it’s missing, then they know the piece is either stolen or fake.

And for digital artwork, blockchain could be used to build logic into a platform that sends notifications when work is scanned, purchased, shared, or put up for auction.

When you know exactly where and how your work is being used, it’s much easier to get the word out about what’s fake or what’s been ripped off.

Whatever the case, it’s important for artists to advertise how they’re authenticating their work. So, when people come across a work of art, they know exactly what to look for.

When we decrease the possibility of getting away with theft, we decrease the incentives to do so in the first place.

Sharing authentication will bring value back to an artist’s reputation.

They call it “artwork” for a reason. Creating it is work.

For many people, this is their livelihood. Promoting their work and getting credit for it is how they build their reputation and move forward in their careers.

As an artist, you build a body of work. You build a portfolio. That’s what shows you have something valuable, that you’re an expert people want to partner with or hire for a commission.

In this day and age, when every industry is so competitive, crowded and noisy, you have to fight for your reputation if you want to make a living off your art.

And for someone to take thirty seconds, screenshot your work, and pass it off as their own — it’s infuriating. It’s an attack on the reputation you’ve built so carefully.

At the Blockchain Art Collective, we work hard to make sure we’re giving artists credit where credit is due. We ask permission to share work and always credit it to the creator. Because we know what it’s like to have work stolen. That’s why we’re creating a system where artists can both remedy and prevent theft of their work in the first place.

The solution isn’t perfect. Unscrupulous people will always try to get their hands on other people’s work.

But giving thieves less of a reason to steal and organizing the community around technology and authentication methods is how we can begin to minimize art theft.


Thanks for reading!

Our team is excited to work with artists to digitize their artwork. To try it for yourself, get a starter kit and blockchain-based certificate of authenticity here.

You can also follow us on Instagram @blockchainartcollective.