Thursday, July 22, 2010

Protecting Your Art Online

Protecting Your Art Online:

Since the advent of the Internet visual artists have been caught in a maelstrom between easy-- and accessible-- exposure for their art as well as the potential for images of their art to be used in ways they do not agree with-- in a sense, stolen. While it is true that the Internet has spurred a new form of art theft-- it has also paved the way for artists to gain exposure without the need for additional expenses that were warranted in the years before the World Wide Web. Thus, the desire-- easy exposure aside-- to protect ones work online is often a hot topic with visual artists from all walks of life and levels of professionalism.

As hinted above-- and mentioned on this blog in the past-- the internet has created opportunities that visual artists would not have had in the past. However, with internet driven opportunity comes the need for greater responsibility-- artists need to be prepared to protect their art if a company or individual infringes upon them. It goes without saying that visual artists who utilize the internet for gaining exposure are faced with this burden. That said, it is a necessary burden. The rewards of online exposure outweigh the risk-- and with proper documentation the risk, under current copyright law, could very well become a reward if your art is infringed upon.

The key issue at hand is whether to register images before uploading them online. In regards to copyright registration and cases of fighting copyright infringement I refer to a statement by attorney Gary Schuster. In a myartspace blog series focused on copyright Mr. Schuster stated, “You may not bring a copyright infringement lawsuit unless the work has been registered. Furthermore, if the infringement occurs before registration, you are limited to receiving your "actual damages".

In other words, if the infringement occurs after copyright registration you are eligible for "statutory damages", which can be both higher and easier to obtain. You will also be eligible to recover your reasonable attorneys fees and costs. If the images are not registered your options in court are limited. You would have to register copyright before filing-- and as stated-- you would then only be able to receive actual damages. Thus, artists should consider registering their art if overly concerned about the risk of copyright infringement.

SPECIAL NOTE #1: There is always speculation about “how much” of an image found online can be used before it is considered copyright infringement. Concerning this Schuster stated, “Contrary to urban legend, there is no particular percentage which needs to be reached in order to permit a finding of infringement. Generally the tests are (i) was there access to the first work, (ii) was there copying, and (iii) was the copying substantial…”. I’ll add that Mr. Schuster is an attorney for Jacobowitz & Gubits, LLP (Walden , New York), and is an expert on copyright.

SPECIAL NOTE #2: You can’t copyright an artistic style! I repeat: YOU CAN'T COPYRIGHT AN ARTISTIC STYLE! Artists who get upset when another artist utilizes a similar style to their own are often the first to scream copyright infringement. An artistic style can’t be copyrighted. If someone ‘borrows’ from your style you should be honored that you have educated them. Chances are-- unless you have been under a rock since the dawn of man-- you have ‘borrowed’ from styles of those who came before. This cry wolf finger-pointing involving artistic style is one of the reasons that there is so much confusion involving copyright.

So how does an artist protect his or her art online? This is a question that has a wide range of answers-- some of which are not very supportive of artists and their need for exposure. For example, I don’t know how many times I’ve read comments from individuals stating that artists should simply not upload images of their work online. I strongly advise against that choice because in this day and age if an artist-- especially an emerging artist-- does not have a presence online he or she, for lack of a better way to put it, does not exist.

Keep in mind that successful artists ranging from Chet Zar to Damien Hirst have benefited from utilizing the Internet. Artists want-- and deserve-- to have images of their works seen by the masses. In other words, don’t limit yourself-- and the potential for success-- out of fear. Would we know the artists mentioned above so well if they had decided to hold back from online exposure? Yes-- but one must admit that the internet has allowed them to expand in ways that would not have been possible without using it as a tool for exposure.

There are some basic steps an artist can take to offer better protection for his or her images online. For example, the accounts on allow artists to add a ‘watermark’ to their images in order to display copyright information or simply the artists name. However, watermarking is an issue unto itself in that there has been great debate online as to whether it takes away from the image. That said, the decision really comes down to personal choice.

Another option for protecting ones art online is to avoid uploading high-resolution images. This choice prevents individuals from printing off images of your art that are a high enough quality to sell. Another benefit of this choice is that-- for artists who have a personal website-- low-resolution images can increase how fast the pages of the site load. However, this choice is a double-edged sword because the quality of the images viewed-- depending on how you do it-- may not be the best example of your images or reflection of your skills as an artist for that matter.

My advice-- if you are wary of uploading images online you may want to only upload images of the best examples of your art after you have registered copyright for said images. Once you have done that you have a powerful tool for protecting your art if someone profits from those images. True, you may never know of all of the violations involving your art-- but if an individual or company makes marketable waves with your images-- or sections of your images-- you will be able to go after the profit you deserve.

That said, the best protection for your art online-- in my opinion-- is to make sure it is seen. The goal of the artist utilizing the Internet for exposure should be to make a clear connection between his or her art and the name behind it. This is where the importance of including contact information, biography, artist statement, exhibit history, and detailed information about the specific works of art come into play wherever you ‘exhibit’ your art online. It just so happens that a free account with offers areas for this information as well as a flash gallery that can be embedded on other sites. Exposure is the best protection!

Links of Interest:

Stealing Images Online… and other Copyright Issues

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

My Art Advice: If I post my work online doesn't that mean that someone is more apt to steal my style? I don't want people to paint like I do!

How to embed a Myartspace online gallery

Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Anonymous said...

Finally someone who says it how it is!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Kudos on saying the best protection is exposure.

SeBiArt said...

Agreed - great post, and if it's okay, I'd like to share a link that offers great complimentary insights to this - from a performer/attorney in new york - his blog is artslawroundup and he covers this topic specifically well also: