Oh my!!!! After my last post on the subject of copying and copyright, “Sharing images on the internet – it’s easy, but is it good?” I have been overwhelmed by the responses on this very vexed question. It is such a minefield, and folks get very heated about it – and no wonder. There are many aspects to consider, including artist’s livelihoods, and how much of it comes down to inspiration versus jumping on a bandwagon. As I said in that post, copying can be good for pushing artists to constantly experiment and evolve, and to force innovation. Like all artists since time immemorial, we have always looked to each other for inspiration. And like a well exercised muscle, the more that we see, the more that we experiment and do, the better we get at coming up with great ideas and new work.
By the way, I’ve included this very beautiful image by Alabama Chanin, who actively encourage people to copy their designs. Instead of only selling the finished works (all stitched and cut by hand by local artisans – therefore each garment is worth thousands of dollars), generously, cleverly, they have built an even bigger business on selling fabric, kits, and totally gorgeous DIY books (you really must check out their website here). It’s an aesthetic and lifestyle that appeals to a much broader audience than those that can afford their clothes, and their business is thriving.
However, in many instances, copying can mean that profits are channelled away from the originator. It happens to lots of artists, in a very real way.
All of us agree that straight out copying of another person’s work without their permission is unfair.
Isabel, in her comment on my previous post tells about someone actually using her image of her work for their own avatar on social media; Tara Bradford wrote a post on her own website about being ripped off as a photographer, despite having several strategies in place to stop it, and having to spend a good deal of time chasing up and removing images from Pinterest. And recently, Inaluxe have had issues with another person blatantly copying their work, to be put up for sale in their own online shop (and it’s not the first time copyright has been breached for Inaluxe either). Although the issue has now been resolved, and that person has removed the offending items, Inaluxe said that this experience was “disruptive, emotionally and mentally exhausting.”
At the very least, Isabel’s story is about blatant misrepresentation; at its worst, Inaluxe’s story is about lost profits – pretty rough for a two person team working out of rural Victoria.
Copying is not right. But that doesn’t mean it will go away if we hide away from it. Copying is not ever going to go away.
We must face up to that fact. We also must face up to the idea that copying has been part of the creative landscape, like, forever.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
Protecting your images and text
There are a range of strategies, from easy to complex. These strategies help, but if people are determined, they’ll still copy your images and/or text anyway. The only really sure-fire way to protect your work is to not put it out there in the first place.
- Use low-res, small images. If the screen quality is low, people are less likely to paste it everywhere.
- Use high-tech image protection. However, these things only stop a right-click on a mouse-type stuff. If you can see the image on your screen, a simple screen dump will capture that image.
- Include a watermark on your image. The more obvious the watermark is, the less likely your image is to be spread. People want pretty pictures, with no ‘blemishes’. If it’s not so obvious, people will mostly be happy to share your image, with your watermark. This is not foolproof though; watermarks can be removed with a bit of clever photoshop action.
- Use Pinterest’s own ‘Do Not Pin’ code on your website. You can find it here. Just copy the code into your own website, and your images will not be able to be pinned onto Pinterest. Easy. However, this does NOT stop other ways of stealing your images.
- Police it yourself. You can use Google Alert or similar to search for particular words or phrases, and spend time removing offending images/text. You can also do random checks yourself, by copying and pasting chunks of text into any search engine. Google Image Search is another great search tool I have used on more than one occasion when I’m trying to track the source of something down. This option does take a lot of time, and you are likely to miss things.
- Legal. There are laws in place of course, including the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. To pursue this avenue is a possibility, but most often it is time consuming and perhaps expensive (if you choose to use a lawyer), and would be an absolute last resort for most folk.
- Educate the public. In small ways or large – through formal channels, such as educational institutions, or just by commenting on someone’s misappropriated image or text, you can gradually change people’s attitudes. It’s the scale of the problem that is the real problem, so fight scale with scale – the more healthy discussion we have, the more vocal we are as artists/makers/designers/writes, the more the broader public becomes aware of what’s at stake. Link with Love and Design Respect are two great initiatives doing just that – use them and help spread the word.
If you find stolen material
- Take a screen shot and save it as a PDF or similar, to use as evidence.
- Ask them politely to remove it!! If you get cranky and demanding first up, they are more likely to get nasty in return, and then nobody gets anywhere.
- Before you shout about it in public, read this excellent article by Australian IP lawyer, Sharon Givoni. THINK BEFORE YOU TYPE, or you may just lose out.
- Get legal support. You need to weigh up whether this is for you. It’s excellent for definitive advice, but is often costly and time consuming, and the result still might not end up in your favour. Would you be better off cutting your losses and simply move on to your next scathingly brilliant idea?
Again, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject! Provocative ideas promote discussions, and discussions provide the seeds of solutions.
Cheers, J x
(if you want read the first part of this discussion, Sharing images on the internet – it’s easy, but is it good?, you’ll find it here.)
Kellie of 74LimeLane pointed me to this article about a new system for protecting your images online. It’s called ImgEmbed, and it has just been launched at SXSW. Free to creators, it not only tracks your image’s use across the internet, but can also automatically insert your watermark whenever the image is downloaded. The end user can remove that watermark if they pay for the privilege, and creators are subsequently paid for that usage. You can find out more information from the article on DesignTaxi, and please read the comments on that article too – they will help put things in perspective of what it can and can’t do.
cheers, Julie x