Protecting Your Work as an Artist

This is a subject we never addressed here on Recyclart, but following our “Pinterestgate” with our other website, we thought is was time to gives some info on how you can protect your work as an Artist. Piracy is a real problem for artists of every stripe. This is likely not news to you. By now we are all familiar with torrenting and how it works. The growing problem within the world of piracy, however, is the amount of visual art that is being stolen and repurposed–often without the artist’s consent and without any credit or payment given. Trying to prevent piracy and the theft of one’s work is a battle that needs to be fought on many fronts. We’re going to talk about a variety of those fronts in this post.


Step One: Mind Your System

The most important step you can take to protecting your work is to protect your system. Like Trend Micro, one of the leading experts in network security keeps reminding us: a system breach can happen in many different ways, on many different fronts. It is important to block those breaches before real damage can be done. And, if you’re an artist or a business owner (and most of you are likely both), you need something more robust than the average web user.

Step Two: Watermarks Are Your Friend

One of the hardest paradoxes of being an artist in the new millennium is that to sell your art, you need to have a website. And, as soon as you post scans or photos of your work online, that work becomes vulnerable to theft. There is a large contingent of internet users (including some who might surprise you) out there who believe that everything posted online is done so under fair use and is available for the taking.

To help reduce thefts, watermark the graphics of the art you post online. And when we say “watermark” we don’t mean a tasteful small mark in the corner of the work. We mean to cover the whole scan/photo in watermarks. A large “Not For Reproduction” watermarked across the work can do a lot to reduce theft and repurposing of your work. Sure, a thief can scrub the watermark out but here’s the thing: thieves are typically lazy. The deeper ingrained and larger your watermark is, the less likely a thief is to do the work needed to repurpose the image as their own.


Step Three: Disable Clicking

There has been some debate about whether or not disabling the right click function on an artist’s site is a good idea. If you are determined to protect your work, we are big advocates of disabling this function on your site (you can usually find plug-ins that will help you do this). Yes, some believe that this will only make thieves more determined to steal your work. At the same time: remember what we said about thieves and work? They don’t like to do it. So–while, yes, they could take a screenshot of your page and then crop it around your work, they aren’t likely to do so. They will be even more discouraged if you watermark the images you display.


Give Them Permission

Wait, what? That’s right. You can cut down on theft by releasing your work under a creative commons share and share-alike license and simply asking people to chip in whatever they can in exchange for its use. This is a simpler and much more cost-effective way of getting people to pay for your work before they repurpose it for their own use.


This likely sounds counter-intuitive, but it might help if you think of a thief as a teenager. If you tell a teenager he or she can’t have something, they just want it more, right? If you say that you don’t care whether or not they use it, a lot of the desire to co-opt your work goes away.

It’s also true that simply asking people to credit or contribute increases the likelihood that people will do so. Amanda Palmer talks about this in her Ted Talk and her book, The Art of Asking.

Here’s the truth: at some point, your work is likely going to be stolen or used without your permission. It is important to protect it as best you can. Hopefully, the tips we’ve talked about here will help you do that.


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Extremely interesting. Has the wheels turning, for sure. Thanks for sharing this one.

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