Not cool, man! Not cool!
"Art theft" is the term artists coined for redistributing art without giving proper credit to the original artist. There are different "levels" of art theft, and each artist decides for himself whether something bothers him or not.
I have plenty of experience with people using my work in ways that I do not approve of, so here is my advice on this subject for all of you who might encounter this issue.
Problem 1: People who just want to share images they love, and they think they're doing you a favor
This group people post your image without any bad intentions, but since they're not familiar with copyright law, they don't know they're doing anything wrong by posting your original image online without crediting you as original artist. Since original artist is unknown, the poster is unknowingly making it appear as if (s)he was the original author of the work. Most of the time things like this happen because the poster didn't even acquire the work from the original artist's web site, but some other channel (other people's blogs, Tumblr, Facebook...) where somebody else shared the image without credit.
If you are doing this, I am asking you to please consider adding a clause under the image with the name and the URL of the original artist. These days it's not difficult to find the source of a particular image, since TinEye and Google Search by image have developed algorithms for image recognition.
If your work has been shared without permission and credit somewhere, the easiest way to solve this issue is to post in the comment of the work that you are the original artist of this image, and that you would appreciate if they wrote your name and the link to your web site under the image. People often genuinely don't know what they did was against the law and unethical, and they will be happy to give credit if you ask them politely. Most of my experiences with webmasters and bloggers were very pleasant, and nice words go a long way.
If there is a watermark on the work, these people won't bother removing it. Having a watermark with the information "© 2012 Your Name", and perhaps a URL as well, is a good way to make sure people can find you even if your image gets lost in the interwebs.
Problem 2: People and organizations who use unlicensed images for promotional purposes
Some people might be using your work as their logo, or otherwise promoting their business with your image. They are not selling your image per se, but they're selling their products or services using your image, so it still counts as commercial use.
You can't just grab a picture off the internet for your logo or book cover, but apparently some people think it's ok. But by doing this they're diminishing the chances of you getting paid for legal use of this image. Someone might actually be happy to pay you, if there weren't other people already using the image.
But this is not just about stealing your work, it can also be damaging to your reputation. For example an organization you wouldn't want to be involved with may appear to be affiliated with you.
This is more complex than getting your image down from their site. You must inform the person or organization that you do not allow such use, and they must cease using your imagery. A polite but official sounding e-mail will do. For example, something like this:
My name is Nela Dunato, and I am the original artist of the image named Phoenix, which may be seen here: http://neladunato.com/illustration/phoenix/
I noticed you are using my image for promoting your business on the following web addresses:
This is unlicensed commercial use, and you are violating my copyright. Please remove my image from all your promotional materials within 72 hours.
If you do not comply with my request in this timeframe, I will be forced to take this matter to your hosting company who is obliged to respond.
They usually respond in a timely manner, apologizing and in some cases shifting the blame on their designer or webmaster. However, there is also a chance they will not respond, so you might have to take this matter further with their hosting company, as I describe below.
Problem 3: People who claim your art is their own
There is a strange breed of people who post other people's artwork as their own. This means posting it on art communities such as DeviantART or Flickr, but also posting it on Facebook in a way that is suggesting they've made it (for example in the album "My art", or alongside their own art).
I still haven't realized what makes people do this. My guess is it's a combination of ultra low self-esteem and weak sense for ethics.
Based on my experience, I don't advise contacting them directly. I've tried, and found communication with this type of people very stressful and disheartening (I blogged about one such experience on my sketchblog).
The most efficient way is to contact the service directly. Usually image sharing web sites have a way of contacting their copyright department, and following the instructions is the best way to have your images taken down promptly (this means using the exact wording they provided that is standard for DMCA notice, as well as supplying your accurate contact information). Sometimes this will require you to have an account on that service as well in order to be able to report the offending work.
- Facebook form for reporting copyright violations
- Instructions for submiting a DMCA notice for Flickr (Yahoo!)
- DeviantART DMCA violation form
Problem 4: People who want to profit from your work
And the final level are the people who want to make money off your work, without giving you a penny. They might re-sell your work on web sites that offer various goods like posters, mugs, T-shirts, iPhone cases, mobile wallpapers etc.
Do not even bother contacting the people who are willingly stealing your work and earning money off it. They don't respect you, and they don't care how you feel about this so e-mailing them won't make a difference. They know they have no right to do this, yet they do this, hoping you won't find out about it.
Find a way to report this copyright violation to the service they are using. If they're selling items on their own web site, contact their web host (I explain how to do this below).
They may be selling items with your imagery on eBay, in which case you're going to have a very difficult time to get it removed, because eBay is notorious for having a very complex way of reporting copyright infringement, and even if you manage to do it, it takes ages for them to respond, if they ever take action at all.
To make sure this happens less often, do not submit large resolution images of your work online. However, even small 800x600 image is sometimes enough for smaller items like mugs, phone cases and phone wallpapers, or as in a case that happened to me, the work can be traced into a vector and this derivative work resold.
Having watermarks will probably not deter people who really want to steal your work, as they can be easily removed in Photoshop and other software — but I still vote in the favor of having subtle watermarks on your art for other reasons.
How to report the infringing website to their web host?
The first step is to find the hosting service. Go to Whois Lookup and look up the offending domain. Check out the domain servers, or nameservers — it should be something like NS1.HOSTING.COM. Hosting.com can be either the hosting company name, or a different nameserver they are using. Just google the nameserver you found, and you should be able to find the company pretty quickly.
When you have found the hosting company website, locate their terms of service. Find the paragraphs concerning copyright policies. There should be an e-mail and physical address provided. Perhaps there will be detailed instructions on what your complaint must consist of, and usually it's the following:
- your contact information
- your signature (I attach an image with my signature, but it can only be your typed name)
- link to where your work was originally published (on your website)
- direct link to the infringing images, as well as pages where they are displayed
- the statement: "I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law."
- the statement: "I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed."
If you feel unsure in your own ability to write a formal complaint, an example of a DMCA notice may be found here.
How to find copies of your art online?
TinEye has been very helpful for me in the past. Its interface is very usable, and if you register an account, you can save your searches for later which can speed up the process of locating copies of your work very much. However, their image database is nowhere near Google's.
Google's interface on the other hand is very basic, and doesn't offer much in terms of sorting, and often gives you a lot of results that are not relevant at all (for example photos that have the same color scheme as your work).
How to get infringing copies of your image down from Google search?
It's really annoying, and a slap in the face when someone else is ranking higher than you are on Google images search for your own image. You deserve that traffic, not them!
You can request that Google take this copy from its index by filling out this form. It will take a couple of days for them to get to your case.
Mythbusting: Preventing right-click is useless
Also, right-clicking to save is not the only way to save the image. A person can save the entire web page on their computer, and then open the respective files folder where your image file will be, unprotected. They can also simply take a screenshot of the page.
Not every person who right-clicks your image is an art thief. People also want to save their favorite images on their computer so they can perhaps find and hire you later, and this is what you may be preventing.
Also, I've noticed Flickr has a trick where they set the photo as background, and put a transparent 1x1px GIF image in the IMG tag, so when you right-click the image, it brings up a save dialog for this tiny GIF, not for the photo you wanted to save. While this might stop less techy people, it doesn't stop me — I can override this very easy, and it takes me only one or two clicks more than if I were to save the image in a regular way. So basically, that's another silly attempt to protect your art that just doesn't work.
What was all that talk about Pinterest?
I allow and encourage pinning, since I see it as the same as sharing on Tumblr, and I can't prevent people from posting my art to Tumblr. I dislike Tumblr in particular, because credits get lost very easily there, and you have to click through several re-blogged posts just to get to the first one that posted, it in hopes of actually finding the original source of this artwork.
Don't lose sleep over this
If you're any good, your art will inevitably get posted without your knowledge elsewhere in a way you may find inappropriate. If you tackle a popular subject as I did with the Phoenix, chances are even bigger. I'm not saying it's ok, I'm just trying to put things into perspective — you're never going to be able to eradicate all unauthorized copies of your work online.
TinEye and Google may come up with many websites for your search, but your time is too valuable to bother with all of them. These issues are a priority:
- People selling items featuring your work
- People using your work as their logo, or otherwise promoting their business with your image
- Any image that is ranking higher than your original version on search engines
In cases where there is no damage done to your income, reputation or traffic, you may just let it pass and use your time to create another beautiful artwork instead.