Monday, February 11, 2008

My Art Advice: Should I be worried about my images being 'stolen' online?

I receive a lot of emails from emerging artists who want advice about marketing themselves online. Thus, I've decided to start yet another series on the blog which I will call, My Art Advice. In this series I will tackle some of the questions I've been asked and I will give my advice about how emerging artists-- and artists in general --can utilize the Internet in order to gain exposure for their art.

The first topic I will deal with is copyright concerns and the fear of having work used without permission. A lot of artists that have contacted me are wary of the Internet in regards to how their uploaded art can be used by others. These artists know that they can gain exposure by uploading and displaying their art online, but they also have concerns that people may 'steal' or 'rip' their images. Thus, I will tackle this issue-- take my advice for what it is worth-- an artist giving advice to other artists. In other words, I'm not asking you to live by what I write... you must draw your own conclusions (no pun intended).

Let us look at this concern at face value. An artist desires for his or her work to be seen, but at the same time is wary that his or her work will be used without permission. While there are ways to protect your art online the simple truth is that if someone wants it bad enough they can work around any security guard that you have in place-- or they can find someone who can. Nothing is 100% safe on the world wide web. That is a risk we all take by uploading our work online-- it is a valid concern. However, by not displaying our work online we risk not being seen. Personally, I would rather run that gambit than risk total obscurity.

Allow me to explain... if I only displayed my art in brick & mortar galleries my work would only be viewed by a few hundred people per year depending on how many times I exhibit and where. By uploading my work to art sites and social networking sites I greatly increase the number of people who view my work at any given time. I know artists who rarely exhibit... yet they have had over 100,000 people (and growing) view their work online after being involved with the 'online art community' for just a few years. I won't drop names, but these artists went from having only a few hundred people viewing their work per year in person to having thousands view their work per month online. Would they be so well-known had it not been for uploading their work online? No. They took the risk and it paid off.

So here is my advice in regards to concerns about images being 'stolen' or 'ripped' online. Sometimes you just have to throw caution aside and look at the bigger picture (no pun intended). Displaying art online is vital to artists today-- especially for emerging artists, artists living in a rural or isolated area, and artists who have to work a day job and don't have the time to seek out brick & mortar opportunities. There is no excuse not to upload your work somewhere on the web when one considers all of the positive outcomes that may occur. Don't allow the fear of having an image used without permission keep you from having your work viewed by thousands that desire it and want to pay you for it -- or simply view it. This is crucial!

Experience tells me that there are really not that many major cases of artists having their work used without permission after uploading their work online. It is very rare for an individual or company to rip work online in order to profit from it. If it does happen and is discovered there are many legal steps that you can take if your images are used for profit without your permission. I'm not a lawyer-- do a google search for art law or copyright law.

Think of the Internet as a train that is heading toward the happy town of Potential Success. Thousands of artists hop aboard each day... do you want to be the one left behind? Don't get caught in the negatives. The success that can stem from displaying your work for the world to see far out-weighs the fear of someone abusing your images. The Internet allows artists to create a network of potential buyers/collectors and to keep in contact with other interested parties-- fellow artists... gallery owners. Those are opportunities that one can miss out on if he or she fails to take advantage of what the Internet can provide.

Don't like my train example? Fine... think of the Internet as a 'tool kit' for success. The features and capabilities of websites are all tools that you can use to 'build' your presence-- and dare I say, business. The tools are before you-- use them! You can worry about (and cash in on) copyright issues when and if someone earns a profit from your work.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
www.myartspace.com/balhatain

15 comments:

JT said...

I would have to agree with what you stated. Let us remember art it self is about taking risk and pushing the envelope in order to keep it fresh and exciting. Who know you could actually start a whole new movement If people pick up on your style
JT

HAmlet2-79 said...

I've had paintings stolen, in the sense that the galleries sold the paintings and never paid me my 50%. But this notion of having one's images (or even one's "ideas") stolen on line is just silly.

If anyone were to make any significant profit by doing that, you'd find out right away. That kind of news travels fast on the Internet. Then you could sue them and collect money. There are plenty of lawyers who will work on a contingency, if the sum involved justifies the effort.

It might be the best thing that ever happened to you.

Kevin said...

I agree with what you have said. No risk no gain. = no life. $ 100,000,000 worth of art was stolen out of one of those brick and mortar places with gaurds.=muesum in Zurich. So don't take your stuff soooooo serious.Take the chance.

marilee salvator said...

I agree. But perhaps it would make some people feel better to know that if you upload your images at 72-dpi and at the screen size (600x800) then it is impossible for some one to take your image and print it out digitally and call it their own. It would look horrible do to the pixels. They could take the image and look at it on their computer, but nothing more. So, there is nothing to fear other than fearing having people actually see your stuff. (this can be scary some times also.)

Donald Bruschi said...

What Me Worry?
C'mon you put your work on the Internet for exposure! If your worried about it being stolen lock it in your closet and get off the GRID. Like someone else said, its poor resolution here anyway. Oh, your worried some famous artist is going to steal your great ideas, seriously. Look into art history a little, most great artists know sharing concepts and work refines ideas. Please steal my work and ideas, I'd be flattered! Its well documented anyway! And I'm not just saying that, document your work, you must have it on a file stored somewhere. There now you can prove you made it first.
Don

Michel Keck said...

Thank you for the article.

My name is Michel Keck. I've been selling my art online since 2003. It's been being ripped off since 2004.

I wanted to post here because I am an artist who suffers large business loss as a result of copies of my works being sold, both direct copies and derivatives. My gallery deals with this very serious issue on a daily basis.

Your statement...

"Experience tells me that there are really not that many major cases of artists having their work used without permission after uploading their work online."

My experience tells me the opposite. I know of many artists who have suffered great business loss because of this.

A perfect example for me to cite is an instance we just found out about yesterday. A popular furniture site LAFLAT who owns the site la-decor, is and has been selling copies of my original paintings for a few only a few hundred dollars. These are being sold as original and hand-painted. These are my paintings, but I’m not painting them. They even stole our very images that we took of my paintings and are using them on their web site. This was brought to our attention from a collector of mine who saw them online at their site.

Look at their site…

http://www.la-decor.com/wall-art-paintings-c-15_16.html?page=10&sort=3a

On that page are actual pictures we took of my original paintings. This company was contacted by my art gallery yesterday and asked to cease and desist and provide information as to where they are buying these copies of my works. They said they would immediately remove them and would let us know the contact information of the supplier. They have not complied. Now, my gallery has to once again pay our attorneys to send a cease and desist and move forward legally. This for me is reality.

The problem is bigger than many know, and for me personally I can honestly tell you it is an issue we deal with on a daily basis. There are many companies like the one above, who purchase from mass-producing artists who will paint anything that is put before them for a dollar… irregardless to whether or not it breaks copyright or derivative rights laws. They will make endless copies of the same painting, over and over again for the almighty dollar… whether they have the legal rights to do it or not. This doesn’t just steal from my business from them selling works that we could be making money off of selling fine art giclee prints, but it also tarnishes the name that I’ve worked my ass off to build. When people see those works supposedly selling as ‘originals’ for next to nothing… that fact too is factored in and causes monetary damage as well.

In regards to hamlets comment -

“If anyone were to make any significant profit by doing that, you'd find out right away. That kind of news travels fast on the Internet. Then you could sue them and collect money. There are plenty of lawyers who will work on a contingency, if the sum involved justifies the effort.”

I am going to have to respectfully disagree with that comment as well. I’ve used and continue to use some of the largest and best copyright & trademark infringement attorneys in the U.S., let me assure you - they don’t work on a contingency fee basis. That is why this problem is so severe. It is expensive and the ‘average’ artist that this happens to can not afford to protect themselves legally. Doesn’t matter if someone is breaking the law if you can’t afford to fight it. One company stops, the next one starts. For me, my gallery fights it, but I am at a point where I am able. I’ve seen artists suffer great losses for their inability to be able to afford to protect defend themselves legally.

Also like you said.. “sum involved justifies the effort” - most companies are wise enough to only list one or two stolen works, they work on smaller scale so to minimize their risk of being sued. This is reality folks.

Every artist has to weigh their options. I used to agree with you that an online presence is a must - after having spent the last year doing exhibits and meeting artists who have never had an online presence but still are successful artists, I’m not so sure. Many I’ve met told me they won’t go online for the very reason of what I am dealing with in regards to the copyright/trademark infringement.

There are millions of web sites it is impossible to police them. The only real way to minimize the risk of this happening to you is by avoiding an online presence.

Even using those techniques to not allow the copying of images --- I do agree with that doesn't matter.. if they want the image and it can't be right clicked big deal - they simple screen capture the image, open it in a program such as adobe and save it from there. Those techniques are useless.

Now in the hopes that your thread will pick up interested art collectors who want to support original artists let me shamelessly plug all of my sites…..

http://www.michelkeck.com
http://www.therawartistgallery.com
http://www.rawandjuicy.com

Balhatain said...

Michel,

I respect your opinion and the advice you have offered. However, as you stated-- there are millions of websites. I'd like to add the fact that there are millions, if not billions, of artists worldwide uploading artwork on a daily basis. Many of these artists would not have the opportunities they have had if not for uploading images of their original work online.

As I mentioned I've read very few cases of major theft like this. There does seem to be a lot of image abuse going on in China, but that is a HUGE bag of worms to open. Perhaps there is just not that much information about it to be found. Take your case for example... how many of us would know about it had you not posted about it? So perhaps there is some concern there.

However, I still think that a very small percent of artists have been badly 'ripped' considering the number of artists who are online posting work everyday. If it is common, as you suggest, I don't find many artists talking about it. I spend a great deal of time on various art forums and I'm in contact with hundreds of artists each day. The problem is not widespread based on my experience.

Benny H said...

I did a search for art law and found several firms that will do contigency fee cases. I also found a non profit agency in the States that helps people fight cases like this. People selling prints of your work can hurt your career but most businesses won't do that for the same reason. A nice letter to the BBB can ruin a business in the United States. Most other countries have stiff penalties for international copyright violations also. It is not hard to fight if it happen and lawyers will jump on those cases if a lot of money is involved. If the business is some rinky dink business that has only sold a handful of prints you probably won't have a case.

Edward said...

I have to agree with Brian on this one. You can't get anywhere today without being established online. I've worked for galleries that have closed because they did not catch on to the internet because they were afraid that someone might 'borrow' an image or two. The rewards are worth the risk.

Liegh said...

Very well written.You are definitely right about that.Take the risk.Chances are you are'nt going to run into any problems...and...if you do you can take what ever action you need at that point.Plus if you watermark your images it makes it a lot harder to steal.Most of mine I put a watermark on a key part of the image.Sure it takes away from the enjoyment of looking at it but at the end of the day I now my work has more security and is much less likely to be stolen.Blank .gifs can easily be worked around...but a water mark in the right place is virtually impossible to scrub......and you will always have the origional which would be of higher quality to prove your case.

VERY GOOD POST.

marilee salvator said...

Michel Keck says, "Even using those techniques to not allow the copying of images --- I do agree with that doesn't matter.. if they want the image and it can't be right clicked big deal - they simple screen capture the image, open it in a program such as adobe and save it from there. Those techniques are useless."

This information is not correct. Standard print resolution is 300dpi. You cant increase an images resolution and print it in adobe or any other program and have it look correct. Resolutions cant be increased without significant loss in quality. It will look like a bunch of pixels. This is the point of making your image in low resolution for the internet.

Not to be a smarty pants, but anyone who knows anything about digital reproduction knows this. If however, you dont reduce the images dpi before uploading it to the internet or sending it off to something then it can be printed in high quality.

Also, if the concern is about someone making a copy of a piece, as in painting a reproduction of it, this could be done just as easy if they see it in a gallery. Like Donald said, if people are so worried about their precious idea being stolen then they need to keep the work in the closet or something.

Besides, in contemporary art we have appropriation. what about artist such as Sherrie Levine, and Koons? ( I am not saying that I agree with this, not it is a fact of life.)

Michel Keck said...

To reply to Marilees quote,

"This information is not correct. Standard print resolution is 300dpi. You cant increase an images resolution and print it in adobe or any other program and have it look correct. Resolutions cant be increased without significant loss in quality. It will look like a bunch of pixels. This is the point of making your image in low resolution for the internet."

Perhaps you misunderstood my comment. The image that was stolen of mine in the example of the furniture store is low-resolution image, they still use it on their web site, I am not saying they are using that image to make the actual prints. What they do is have hired painters try and duplicate the image. That is what I was referring to when I said if someone wants an image they can take it. We could have put a watermark through it, but having done that in the past the watermark through the works was not received well by collectors who wanted to view images without the watermarks through them - which I understand.

I do agree far more artists aren't copied than are, but there are still many who are and for some it does effect their bottom line.

As I said I believe artists have to consider that it is a possibility and weigh their own options. That is why I am sharing my information here, so that both sides can be shown.

I have found a few times that as long as the copyright infringement isn't happening to an artist personally most artists don't care about the issue, but the minute it does happen to them their attitudes can change quickly on the subject.

Michel Keck

susanna thornton said...

I an in strong agreement with this risk vs potential gain assessment. It's pretty straightforward. I wanted to send this link, I use this site for my work. It is a tracking technology service that tracks your images online, it is about $25/month if you select all available territories and they crawl different website (mainly commercial websites) to find unauthorized usage of your images. They do not use watermarks or any sort of embedded technology, so you don't have to watermark your images and no matter how someone were to manipulate or distort, crop your image or otherwise it will track & recognize it.

So basically if someone tries to steal your image off the web and play it off as their own, or worse make a profit off it it, you will be the first to know... one thing is that they don't waste time with smaller websites the only ones they search are larger, commercial sites, there may be other services out there like this but I haven't seen any with this particular technology.

Check it out,

http://www.picscout.com

ST

Silverhammer said...

So no one stole an image of your work Michel? They just used it as a guide to create their own work? I'm afraid you don't have much of a case. If they used an image of your work that is one thing but creating a piece based off your work is another. You can't copyright style. If that was the case the estates of Warhol, Picasso, and Pollock could file suit against millions of artists online. It is kind of like music. Change one note and the music is your. In case of art change one stroke or one mark and the work is yours. That is different if it is a comicbook character or something like that. But for a work of fine art you should be honored that someone has taken the time to learn from your work. No original piece is ever the same. I think you need to get over yourself.

Jeff said...

I once had someone say to me regarding an ebay sale of a painting, "why should I buy your painting when I can just print it out and have it?" I said, go ahead. At 72 dpi it would look like crap and be tiny. What Michel has brought up is an entirely different situation/problem. I personally would say that if I became that successful selling my art that that would be a headache I really wouldn't mind having.