Art Theft And What You Can Do About It
- May 24, 2012 1:18 AM
Art theft. It's a problem online, there's no denying it.
As some of you may or may not know, I've been dealing with a few cases of art theft lately. It's annoying when someone takes your work, and especially frustrating when they intend to use it for personal profit. It's sorted out now, so as to not let the matters get me down too much, I thought it might be worthwhile to write this blog to help other people out.
What exactly defines art theft?
Generally, someone taking your art and using or distributing it in a way you disapprove of without your prior consent is art theft. Therefore, it can mean a lot of different things to different people. Your mileage may vary, but only you (or your publisher should they hold a license to it) have the say over how your art is used.
Is it serious?
It can be, but again this depends on personal view. Someone taking your art and cropping it into an avatar to use on their favorite forum may not bother you. On the other hand, someone taking your art and selling it as a button design or t-shirt is going to be a serious matter to most of us. The bottom line is that anyone taking your art without your authorization is wrong, and if you wish to, you are entitled to do something about it..
How can I prevent it?
...Well, you probably can't. At best, all you can do is strongly discourage it, and take precautions to make it easier to take action should your work get stolen. Here are some examples to consider:
- Watermarking your images makes it difficult for thieves to use them. On the downside, this can make the art look unsightly for your viewers...
- Clearly define the copyright in the description. Whenever you create something from scratch, it is copyrighted to you by default, and you have the right to state so in the description of your image. I'll cover more about how you can use this later on.
- Never upload your images at full size and high quality without good reason for doing so. Not only will your images load faster and be easier to view on the screen by uploading smaller jpg versions, but it will make it nigh impossible for any would-be thieves to sell physical copies of the work. The larger and better quality your images, the more uses they'll be able to find for them.
- Keep all your original sketches. This might seem like an obvious one, but your originals are part of your strongest proof against the thieves should they try to claim ownership.
Someone's taken my work! What can I do?
Your first step is, if possible, contact the thief directly and politely ask them to cease using your work. Even if you're seething with anger, a calm, polite tone will be more likely to get you results than if you blast them. Make sure you provide links to the case where your art is being displayed without permission, and to your original work. Clearly outline that they are not permitted to use what they've taken. In most milder cases (ie. them displaying your work on their blog or website), this will prompt an apology and the thief will take your work down.
If they don't remove your work, you're entitled to take more serious action. This will be different depending on the circumstances of the theft, but we'll assume the case is serious enough to involve some officially type action.
Cease and Desist
As blunt as it sounds, a Cease and Desist letter is something like a preliminary warning to the thief, telling them to take the work down, no ifs, ands or buts.
You may want to allow the thief anywhere from a couple of days to a week to take down your work (you can outline a certain date for this in the letter if you like). From my own experience, this is as far as I've ever had to go to get an offender to take down my work. If this fails, there's one more step to take before any bothersome actions come into play.
In most cases, you will be able to file a DMCA takedown notice to the host or the provider of the website which is violating your copyright. Most hosts and providers have a page or email specifically for copyright infringement claims. The DMCA should be your last resort. DMCA stands for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is a (somewhat controversial) US law that, in this case, basically protects your copyright. You can learn more about it here.
As I've never needed to write one of these myself, I won't pretend I'm the best source of knowledge on the topic. These sites will tell you more than I can about the matter.
A simple, easy to read guide & example letter from The Law Guide
An interesting and much more indepth article from Plagarism Today
I hope none of you will ever need these links, but they're handy to have just in case!
Copyrights. How do they work?
As stated earlier, your manga and artwork is copyrighted to you from the moment of its creation. This gives you the right to write a copyright notice for it. It doesn't need to be fancy or full of disclaimers, in fact:
Copyright -Artist's Name- 2012
© -Artist's Name- 2012 All Rights Reserved
...Will more than suffice.
This site has a lot of information and clarifications of various myths you may have heard about copyright. It's quite informative, too, so check it out if you'd like to know more about how copyright helps you protect your work.
I hope this was able to help some of you. Hopefully, you won't need this help, but we're all so talented~, you never know when someone may target your hard work. You have a right to defend your work, and I hope you will.