Piracy and copycats have always been a problem since the dawn of inventions and commerce. It seems like pirates always find a way. The digital age of the internet and publishing images have made this an at-home reality for quite a few artists. You run a Kickstarter and later find your work being sold on Amazon or from an overseas supplier. It’s frustrating but what can you do to protect yourself?
The short answer is nothing. The longer version of that answer is you can make it extremely tough on the pirates to clone your work and thereby deter them into finding an easier target. So how do you begin to protect yourself? There is always filing a DMCA notice and that could work for you. But let us stack those odds in your favor better.
Steps to Protect Your Artwork:
Know your manufacturer:
Finding a vetted and trusted manufacturer overseas may require the use of a middleman or broker and paying a bit more for the item. But a vetted supply chain can stop an unscrupulous manufacturer from stealing your work.
Protect your artwork:
Before sending off your artwork to someone or publishing it online, there are a few very simple steps you can take to protect your property. If you’re uploading to an e-commerce page such as Etsy, Amazon, or eBay use low-resolution images. They may not look the best, but they won’t look good to a thief either. Use watermarks on your image files. Place a watermark with your website, social media info, or contact info directly over the image before you finalize the file. Incorporate it into the final layer so anyone trying to remove that layer will end up with a noticeably altered image. By placing your mark over an image, if the file is stolen you will easily be able to identify your work. This will make it easier to report copyright or DMCA violations to get that person shut down.
Sharing your artwork files:
If you’re sending an artwork you did for someone and have yet to be paid for it, put it on a proof sheet that has all your contact info on it, use a low-resolution image, and watermark the image. Only send them ready-to-use files with a watermark removed once you’ve been paid in full. If they use your watermarked image or attempt to make others print it they will quickly have pointed out to them they don’t own the works.
If you’re using Kickstarter you can always put the Kickstarter link as your watermark across the image. The same goes for Etsy, Amazon, or any other online commerce profile. Much of the artwork that gets stolen for use by pirates comes from these sources. They look for easy targets. Don’t be an easy target.
Know your recourse actions:
Know the piracy policies in the terms of service for every platform you’re using your work on. It’s a good idea to print a copy and highlight the parts that apply to you for quick reference later. Keep your uploads within their policies and guidelines and any reports you file to those platforms should be easier on them to decide in your favor.
Depending on where you live you should look up the laws that protect your works in that area. Research the DMCA and see where it applies to you. Find other case law in your place of residence that can back you up should you need to send legal notices out to the pirates. Track all the websites you find your work on. Often times even if they appear to be different pirates, they are all controlled by one.
These steps are just some simple suggestions and overall good business practices. There are many other steps you can take to protect yourself but those will require time and research on your part. As a creator of works you should not only invest in your product, but also in the knowledge of how things work around the business you’re in and what protections you have. The time investment on your part to keep learning and adapting is worth far more than the projects you’re doing right now and will help to ensure that all future projects stay under your control.