One of the topics that consistently comes up when talking about art is copyright protection and how best to combat “pirates” who steal your work. In this article, I am going to talk about several ways that you can protect your artwork. I will say that there is NO ideal way to stop someone from taking your work if they’re determined to do so but these methods will surely slow them down at least but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start by talking about…
What is a Pirate?
I can’t talk about pirates unless I first let you know what makes a pirate in my eyes, a pirate. Those who save images just because they like them and use them for wallpapers and such are not pirates in my opinion. Pirates are those who blatantly takes art and starts acting like they made it; in it’s original or recreated form; or starts selling it for money.
These two are the most obvious one’s but I will say that there are gray areas. One gray area is not giving credit for an artwork when you don’t know who originally created it in the first place. Being the internet, you come across many images and sometimes, it can be really tough finding the original artist. Even if you do find the original maker, that maker’s name might be in a different language! What’s a person to do?!
In cases like this, try to give credit if you can otherwise, just state that you don’t know who the creator is but you’re giving a nod to whoever they are. As an artist or even a fan of artists, always show your support by giving kudos to those artists you admire.
How Pirates “Steal” Your Work
I. Save Image As…
For PC users; not sure if Mac users have this ability; there is a capability where you can save images off web sites. This is generally the number one way to get images off of the web onto your computer.
II. Print Screen
For the more savvy computer users, they know about a little button called Print Scrn which takes a shot of your current desktop. A bit of editing in a graphic software and they’ve got your image.
III. Touching Up Images
For those who use watermarks, there are some pirates out there who won’t mind taking the time to re-touch the art to take out the watermark. This is the one I believe splits hard-core, determined pirates versus more casual pirates who will use the other first two easier options.
IV. Re-Creating the Work (and Maybe Even Changing It a Bit)
This is the more extreme version of the prior method in that the pirate doesn’t just touch up an image and work with the original, but instead, basically re-create your work from scratch. Most artists copy other works in order to learn and thus evolve from their current abilities but there are those out there who cross the line and use their skill in order to ride off someone else’s creativity, taking all the credit and for the more insidious, making money off of others hard work.
There are some out there who even think that changing one or two things about the work make it their own but in reality, that work is still not theirs. For example, there was a young artist, Kasey Bowman, who recreated a work from Wenqing Yan on DeviantArt. There were slight differences here and there but the overall imagery, theme, and poem of the work was still the same.
Left is original by Yan and right is the rip-off by Bowman.
How to Combat Pirates
As I said earlier, there is nothing you can do that can fool-proof your work against pirates BUT there are ways you can at least slow them down!
I. Use Flash
Flash, for those unfamiliar with it, is a software by Adobe that allows you to make websites, animation and online games among other things. If you’re into web design or can afford to hire a web designer, consider making your site using Flash. By using Flash, you can deter the easiest of pirates and you can enjoy having a fancy website as well!
If you really want to throw a curve ball to pirates and partly deter those who uses print screen, try making your site in that when it shows your image, have a border around your art that partly obstruct the edges or certain parts of the image like using paint splatter. This will take away a bit of your art but consider it if you’re having problems with pirates.
II. Use Watermarks
I’ll admit that I don’t personally care for watermarks because it obstructs and skews the artwork that you’ve made. But I will admit that it is a better deterrent to pirates who don’t want to be bothered with cleaning up an image. Watermarks can be made in a variety of ways from simple text to beveled text to fancy logos, X marks and so on. My take on it is to use whatever works for you and at whatever size you want to put over your art. There is no right or wrong way of making a watermark.
III. Keep Your Images Small
I know you probably would like to share your work in it’s full original-sized glory but the consequences of that would be much greater especially if a pirate loves your work and has no qualms using them to make money for themselves. For example, I just love Anne Patzke’s work. They’re adorable! But she’s had problems with people stealing her work and making money off of them. To combat it a bit, she’s keeping all her image postings small (not to mention she uses watermarks!).
This image not only sports a watermark but is posted originally at 650×468 pixels in size. Art by Anne Patzke.
By keeping images small, you don’t give the pirate that higher quality version to use for making products or for anything else actually. The only way a pirate may overcome this is if they are willing to take the time to recreate the artwork and in my view, the more complicated the artwork a pirate has to recreate, the harder it is for them in the long run.
I would suggest you keep your images down to 800×600 pixels or under. Also, keep the DPI down to 72. This way, it’s okay for viewing on the computer but not as well suited to printing due to it’s low dots-per-inch.
IV. Become Popular
The more people know about your art, the more eyeballs there are who can keep an eye out on those who’re using your work inappropriately. Remember that young artist who recreated another artists work in Deviant Art? Well, that pirate got caught because the original creator’s work was recognized and brought to her attention. If that artist didn’t have fans, there’s a very good chance that she may never have found out about the other girls’ recreation.
Here’s some tips on how to become “popular”:
1. Keep posting artwork regularly.
2. Join communities like this site’s forum, for example, and become an active member.
3. Keep learning and improving on your skill.
4. Draw fan art.
5. Make tutorials, articles, videos or things (keychains, buttons, etc) that would interest others.
6. Get your name out to as many websites as you can and consider joining social media sites.
7. Make friends and network.
8. Try to be helpful and courteous.
V. Find Out Who’s Posting Your Art and Send a Take-Down Notice
Using certain search engines which I’ll talk about more below, find out who’s posting your art and if you can find the owner of the site and their contact information, send them either a notice to give you credit or if it’s for a worse offense, a take-down notice or cease-and-desist as some would call it. Keep your take-down notice short and to the point. Explain that you are the original creator, provide proof of ownership (when work was first published and URL), and a request for them to take down your art.
Most people would comply but for those who do not, you can try another tactic such as contacting the site’s owner (for example, if the pirate was using a service like Cafepress or Etsy) and getting them to take your items down. If the pirate is running their own domain, on the other hand, you may try contacting their web hosting provider. Make a WHOIS search, find out out where the site is being hosted, and send the web host a message stating that their customer is posting your work without your permission. Legitimate web hosting providers usually take something like this seriously and will follow through on your request as copyright violations are part of their terms and conditions.
You may also opt to bring the perpetrator’s wrongdoing to your fans attention or to sites like . Shaming them in public may alert others to their actions and maybe further deter them from pirating again in future.
Looking up who posted my avatar. Looks like it’s just me!
Who’s Posting Your Art?
This is a trick that I’ve recently found out about and I must say that it’s rather nifty! Basically, what you do is make a search engine match an image you want to find to others exactly or just like it in the internet. There are two image reverse searchers out there:
I. Google Image Search
To use Google Image Search, all you have to do is open up a browser, make sure the browser window is not maximized and move it to the side. Open up to the folder which has the image you want to search, make sure you position it next to the browser and then drag and drop the image you want to search for into the Google Image Search box. Google will then return a list of images and websites which it considers to match the image you’re looking for.
II. TinEye Reverse Image Search
Another image search engine is TinEye. For this, you may upload an image, enter the URL of the image or drag and drop onto the gray box for it to start searching. It works just as well as Google and as an extra – there is a browser plugin for all major browsers.
And Then There Was…
There are sites such as Plagiarism Today that help creative folks deal with plagiarizers with their nifty 6 steps to fight internet plagiarism articles (with their excellent advice on what to do if you’re not successful with contacting the perpetrators web host), providing stock letters, DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) contacts, and more.
You Thought We Wouldn’t Notice is another site to check out if you’re interested in seeing people and companies get caught using others work without permission and maybe even a place to ask for help if your art is ever pirated.
Take the time to become knowledgeable about the copyrights from where you live and find the appropriate sites with information on what to do if someone takes your work. There are going to be happy endings and long overdrawn ones but don’t let this type of ordeal take over your life and don’t let it get to you. Do the best you can to protect yourself and keep doing what you’re doing. The pirates only win if you give up so I’ll end it with this: Never lose hope and keep it up!