We thought this would be an interesting article to reprint as it addresses important issues. The original appeared on Helium and was written by by Jennifer Brinkle.
With more people surfing the internet on a daily basis, art identity theft has become more frequent. Stealing someone’s artwork is as easy as “right click save as.” Many users use this function simply to store on their personal computer and use as part of their screen saver or wallpaper and don’t actually redistribute the image as their own. But other, less honest users actually post these stolen images on various sites and forums across the web passing them off as their own creations. Some even have the audacity to sell the stolen images as prints through online marketplaces and auction sites profiting from someone else’s hard work.
If you are an artist and post images on the internet the first thing you should do is become familiar with copyright law. U.S. copyright law exists the moment you create something yet this alone is not sufficient for a successful lawsuit against someone who is profiting from your work. In these situations in order for you to bring about a law suit for infringement you must register your work. Registering does cost a fee however it is per application and you may submit several works with one simple application. For more information on U.S. Copyrights visit http://www.copyright.gov/ Online applications are available at http://www.copyright.gov/forms/
Of course registering does not prevent theft from occurring but it does provide you with a more solid legal argument. There are other minor things you can do to help thwart theft in the interim. One popular method is to watermark your work. Yes, the watermark may be unsightly and distract the viewer from seeing the image as you want it to be viewed, but at a low opacity the watermark is a necessary evil to help protect yourself. Another suggestion is to only submit low-resolution images at a smaller size. For many digital works this does eliminate detail but also prevents better quality rip-offs from being distributed. Also, keeping the image size small is also recommended (example: 600 x 800 pixels).
If you wish to showcase your work on the internet, I also recommend joining an artist community. There are several across the web to choose from (deviantArt, Elfwood, Epilogue, GFXartist (to name a few)). Before joining one however, you should browse through the sites first. If able to, read a few of the forums; get to know a little bit about the admins and the users before signing up and submitting your work. Besides being a great outlet for critiques and exposure of your work, an online art community is also a great support base and networking opportunity. By interacting with other artists you can learn different methods to protect your work and also have several more eyes out there on the web that can help identify if and when your work has been stolen.