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Copyrighting Infringement - Is The Threat Real For Artists?
By Isabelle Garbani
Many artists have asked me recently about protecting their images from online theft.
Downloading photos from websites is as easy as 1-2-3 soÖ what can you do to protect
your work, and more importantly, should you be worried about it?
1. Why is your work online?
Letís start by examining the reasons you have put your work online in the first place. As an artist,
having a website means that millions of people and potential collectors are able to see images of
your work for free. A digital portfolio can reach potential galleries, collectors, art critics,
curators, museums, friends and family. To ensure your site will be seen by as many people as possible,
it needs to be easily accessed, should be easy to navigate, with clear images that are large enough
to be seen properly on most monitors, yet not too big that they will take too long to download .
Making it easy for everyone to see your work of course makes the images vulnerable to theft. What
tools are available to prevent theft and are they effective?
2. Are the tools to protect images effective?
There have been many attempts to prevent theft from websites, from disabling right-click to putting watermarks on
images. Unfortunately, most of those have simple work-arounds that any tech-savvy thief will know:
Flash site: though you cannot download an image from a flash site, anyone can use the print screen function
to get an image. Get a flash site because you like the look, not because you are told it will protect your
work from copyright infringement
Disabling right-click: this will annoy anyone who legitimately wants to promote your work (a blog reviewer
trying to post an image of your work for example) yet is easily circumvented.
Watermarks: to be effective, the watermarks would have to be so big that no one (including potential
collectors!) would be able to see the image properly. But, a watermark which allows the image to be seen
unscathed can easily be removed by anyone with some Photoshop expertise. Watermarks, then, seem to be a
3. Who are the thieves anyway?
Letís stop for a minute and think about the purposes of our potential thieves. Possibly
the most threatening would be someone stealing images for mass printing and distribution.
Imagine walking into a Bed and Bath, and seeing your paintings on shower curtains!
Here, your best defense is the web itself: images prepared for the web are usually not
suitable for printing, because they are at a low resolution (72 dot-per-inch) and are
typically fairly small (on average about 500 pixels or less than seven inches).
A licensing company usually has large pools of artists doing work for them, and basically
do not need to steal art that will reproduce poorly on their products, and lower their quality.
4. Can nothing be done?
If you are truly worried about copyright infringement, you can register your images with the
government (see the government site at www.copyright.gov). The current cost to register is $45.
You do not need to register to obtain copyright. According to the law: Your work is under
copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible
either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. You only need to have the copyright
registered if you wish to take legal actions against someone: Copyright exists from the moment
the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for
infringement of a U.S. work. Beware that an actual lawsuit against anyone can be quite expensive,
and you probably should be comfortable spending up to $5, 000 and risk not recovering any monies.
In conclusion, though the risks of copyright infringement do exist, artists should probably not
spend too much time worrying about their images being stolen for nefarious purposes. Most people
who will download your images will do so with or without your permission, and usually will not
have any criminal intents (bloggers, galleries, friends, students). For those who do, bringing any
legal action against them will be costly, time-consuming, and in the end, may not bring any reparations or compensations.
http://www.copyright.gov (government site)
http://www.vlany.org (volunteer lawyers for the arts)
http://www.websiteforartists.com (author's site)