Aug 12, 2019

Copyright: protect your intellectual property online

A few easy steps to copyright your artwork and prevent copyright infringement

Today’s reality is digital, so if you’re a modern artist it’s highly probable that your works are not hanging on a gallery wall and probably never will. Some time in a not so distant future most people will consider «offline» art exposure and gallery visits as something still appealing but rather old-fashioned.

Even if you are sentimentally attached to brick and mortar art institutions, you still have to expose your art online as it’s critical for your future success. The good news is that you can easily upload your artworks and share them with billions of people around the world, the bad news is that the task of protecting your art from copyright infringement gets much harder when it’s out there in the online “wilderness”.

These days you regularly hear stories on how someone’s photos or pictures were used without permission. Sometimes these stories can even stir up real scandals, like the case of Swedish photographer Tuana Aziz who has found one of his photos printed on a T-shirt sold by the fashion label Mango.

Copyright is basically a set of rights that only you have to your artwork. It helps you protect your work against use by others without your permission and allows you to get paid for your work. Other people would need your permission or license to use it.

 How to protect your art from copyright infringement on your own website

How to prevent piracy, your work being used for free, or without your permission?

Some tips on how to protect your artwork online:

  • Disable right click on your website (this can help a little, but the effect would be limited as people can still save pictures using a screenshot).
  • Publish small, low-resolution images which aren’t suitable for printing. The best resolution settings are from 72 to 96 dots per inch. Tell users that a high-quality version is available to buy. Make it easy to contact you – via email or messengers.
  • Сrop your images and use portions of them.
  • Use digital watermarks. Usually, a semi-transparent watermark covers much of the image so it will have no sense to download it.
  • Put the © notice with your name on your web page.
  • Use plagiarism tools like Copyscape to search for places that have used your content.
  • Sign your name on you works and include the year of completion.
  • Register your work officially through legal institutions in your country. You have copyright for your work by default, but registrering will prove in a sufficient way that the work is yours.
  • Make digital records of your work which you will be able to use in court. E.g. photographs have metadata which contain the date of creation. You can also use all the advantages of our Digital Twin service, which suits this purpose being able to store all the data about your artwork in one place (learn more – https://art.art/digital-twin/).
  • Act when you notice theft. Send an email to a person who took your artwork without permission and ask them to take the work down. Most of the people will do what you want. If not, ask a lawyer to help you with writing an official letter. In most cases this is sufficient.

How to protect art on social media

First of all – beware of social media! Your own website makes it possible for you to track the number of people visiting your page and viewing your works. It also gives you a number of tools to protect them from being copied. Once you upload your pics to social media it’s absolutely uncertain where they end up.

The most prominent cases of stealing artworks and copyright infringements were registered at the beginning of the social media era. A photographer won $1.2 million from companies that took his pictures from Twitter.

If you are using such platforms as Facebook or Instagram, your content is far from safe. Back in 2015 a photographer called Richard Prince made it all the way to New York’s Frieze Art Fair with what was literally screenshots of other people’s Instagram posts, and even sold a few of them.

According to Instagram’s own Terms of Use, you own your photos and videos. But buried in Instagram’s privacy policy is an otherwise unnoticeable line: “Once you have shared User Content or made it public, that User Content may be re-shared by others”. Instagram basically says that it can sell your photos and grant permission on your behalf. Richard Prince didn’t think that far ahead, but there was a way for him to legally license the photos from the social network, if he wanted to.

A social media network does not own the work that has been posted on their website; the copyright is still retained by the owner. But by agreeing to post works on the platform, you sign an agreement that gives them a license to use the work for self-promotion, for example. Without any compensation to the author and without their permission.

Some easy steps for protecting your content on social media:

  • Carefully read Terms and Conditions
  • Add a watermark to all your images
  • Register your intellectual property with an official body
  • Monitor social media platforms to check for cases of infringement

We aren’t telling you to drop all your social media accounts and run. It is a great tool that shows you’re cool and progressive and gives you a chance to connect to your audience in a direct way, but you have to remember that social media is like a market place for your art, while a website is your stronghold – under your full control at all times.

.ART is ready to be a stronghold for you.


Also published on Medium.

.ART Team
.ART Team
members are global citizens with interests ranging from art history to social justice. If we had an office cat we would have called it Basquiat.