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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Online Art Theft & You

#Art #Artists #Writers #Writing #FakeArt #Like&Share #Like&Follow #Plagiarism #Copyright #FanArt #FairUse
DISCLAIMER: This article is for entertainment and educational purposes only, and is not intended as legal advice. Please consult a lawyer before taking any legal actions.

   Any artist or writer posting her work on the internet knows that that kind of exposure is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you can potentially reach hundreds, thousands, or even (if you're lucky) millions of viewers in a way that's much more convenient and cost-effective than traditional media. On the other hand, it's incredibly easy to have your work ripped off, or even outright stolen. So how can an artist keep from being cut out of the deal? And how can we spot online art theft when it happens?

   First of all, I can't emphasize enough that online plagiarism and pirating is incredibly, insanely, stupidly EASY. Most of the time, you can simply right-click and copy content, and then do whatever you want with it, no links required. Sometimes, however, it's much more complicated and malicious than that.

   Let's take a look at some of the different ways your creative works can be stolen online.

  1. The Non-Credited Share -- This is both fairly common, and often fairly innocent. It's when someone copies and shares content without acknowledging where it came from. Most of the time, it's not intentional stealing; just careless sharing. Unfortunately, it still cuts the artist out of the picture.
  2. Content Cloning -- Unlike non-credited sharing, this is when someone copies content, and then tries to pass it off as their own. Thieves have hijacked artwork, designs, stories, software, and even entire blogs. They will remove watermarks, signatures, and URLs from images, and otherwise alter content as needed to make it look like their original work. Sometimes, a content cloner will even send messages to the creator threatening to sue for copyright infringement, in an attempt to scam money out of them. It's all in a shameless attempt to use someone else's work for their selfish gain.
  3. Non-Credited Modification -- Like content cloning, this is when someone tries to pass off someone else's work as their own. However, instead of producing a clone, they will somehow modify the content to make it seem more original or authentic. A common example is applying a Photoshop filter to make a photo look like a drawing. Thieves will insist that they created the content from the ground up, and give no mention of where they got their beginning content from.
  4. The Rip-Off -- Sometimes, people will just flat-out steal your idea. It happens both online and off, but it's insanely easy to find a wealth of ideas to poach from small content-creators online. What constitutes a rip-off is notoriously a legal and moral grey-area, but some cases are obvious. To get an idea of the frequency of this problem, try searching "stole my design" on the Etsy forums. Additionally, this is not only perpetrated on the small scale, but on the large-scale by big companies. One notable example is when Target ripped off an Oregon Mom's T-shirt design.
  5. Pirating -- When content which you are selling is copied and consumed without due payment to the creator. Media vulnerable to pirating is usually digital. It's common to pirate video, images, music, software, and literary works. Most pirated media is consumed for free, but some is sold illegally, or distributed on websites that collect ad revenue or membership fees.

       In spite of the numerous ways art and media can be stolen online, there are steps you can take to protect your content, and support other artists. There's a lot a creator can do to make a thief's job harder. Responsible and thoughtful sharing practices on the consumer's part can also go a long way to helping creators get the credit they deserve. Though many anti-theft measures may seem like common sense, there may be one or two ideas that don't immediately come to mind.

       The first thing that comes to mind with regards to protecting intellectual property is probably registering for trademarks, copyrights, and patents. There are a number of great legal resources that would do a much better job of explaining this process than I can, and I encourage you to do your own research and consult a lawyer before taking any legal actions. In brief, the government charges you a fee to file the required documents outlining the property in question, what it is, who owns it, who has the right to use it, and under what circumstances. Though, technically, you are usually the owner of whatever you create, your options for legal action are limited without the proof of ownership, and definition of rights to the property that a registered trademark, copyright, or patent provides. Additionally, there are some legal grey areas in which ownership may not be clearly defined; such as when a work is created for hire. If you're serious about turning your creative works into a source of income, it's definitely worth it to learn your rights, and get in contact with a legal professional.

       Though invaluable for legal purposes, registering your intellectual property is not the only thing you can do to protect your work. As a creator, anything you can do to make it more difficult to clone, copy, or otherwise claim your work is a plus for you. You can start by getting one step ahead of the thieves, and claiming your own work in whatever way you can. Adding URLS, signatures, and watermarks to content; sharing on your official social media accounts; using custom tags; time-stamping your posts; and essentially attaching your name to everything you create makes it harder for a thief to make a convincing claim of ownership. Another general rule is that should never give away for free anything you intend to sell. Keep the high-rez, watermark-free, top-shelf content off social media and otherwise out of reach. A graphic designer working on commission, for example, shouldn't send a re-sizable vector file as a sample-image for a client; but should instead opt for an appropriately-sized PNG with a watermark. By directing the consumer back to you and your product whenever possible, you are promoting yourself and helping to protect your work at the same time.

       There's a lot creators can do to protect their work, but consumers can also help prevent them from being cut out of the deal. One of the easiest (and arguably, most helpful) things you can do to show your support is to share media, with credit, from the original source. The elusive "Like & Share" may be often requested, but that's because it gets the word out to people who enjoy the content in a way that lets them know where it came from. If you notice that someone other than the original artist shares without giving credit, it's a great help to speak up. Try dropping a quick comment of "So-and-so made this, he does great work!" with a link to the original, or sending a heads-up message to the creator. (Keep in mind that it's possible to delete comments, so if someone is maliciously trying to steal another's work, a message to the creator is really best.) Though it may not always be possible to track down the creator, making an effort to keep original artists and authors in the picture helps keep people from getting ripped off.

       We may not be able to prevent people from stealing original work 100% of the time, but we can certainly make sure it isn't easy. By sharing smart, and thinking ahead, you can keep yourself from being an easy target. By calling out fakes, you can help keep them from profiting off of fooling people. By protecting yourself legally, you can take steps to minimize your risk of becoming a victim. There's always something you can do to help reduce online art theft!

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, you may also like to check out some of my other posts. Here's what I recommend now:
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