Here’s a topic that is hard to write a light hearted intro to so I’ll just dive right into it.
Let’s talk about art theft!
For the purpose of this blog, I’m talking solely about an artwork/design that is used/sold without permission of its creator (Intellectual Property theft is much more complex and won’t be covered here).
What I wanted to focus on in this blog is the impact of art theft, and different ways to approach and manage the situation.
I’ll kick this off by sharing one of my own experiences. A few years ago I discovered that my designs were being sold on another POD site without my permission, not just one or two, but multiple listings that saw me having to send over 1000 DMCA notices in the space of one month. The negative impact this had was multi-faceted. There was the immediate stress and frustration of seeing my art being stolen (not a new experience unfortunately). Then there was the stress that came from trying to deal with such a vast amount of theft, all while still finding time to create new art and meet deadlines on existing projects. The whole thing was drawn out and endlessly frustrating.
I did learn a lot from it though, and it resulted in my writing out a small list of questions that I often ask myself when dealing with art theft.
How much time am I prepared to commit to this?
Sometimes you’ll find yourself dealing with a situation that is so vast and complicated that you need to step back and consider how much time you’re prepared to commit to it.
Trying to get stolen art removed from some of the larger marketplaces can become quite complicated, especially as you’re sometimes dealing with different laws and processes. The larger the company the more automated their approach can sometimes be, and it can become very frustrating going around in automated circles trying to get a response. I’ve had moments where I had to just turn my back on it and move on. The time spent in an endless battle with no result was time I decided was better spent creating new art. That decision was not only better for my own creativity but also a much better thing for my own mental health.
Has my art been stolen and listed on this website before?
I’d say that at least 50% of the time when I find my art has been stolen it’s being listed on the same websites. While this can be frustrating, it can also save a lot of time as I’ll usually just find the last DMCA email exchange and reply to that with the new information. This reminds the website in question of the history and tends to get the matter resolved much faster.
If it’s a new website then I’ll go into it knowing there’s a chance there will be some pushback from the initial contact.
Over time you’ll develop your own list of usual suspects which can make it easier to keep an eye on theft and get it dealt with in a more efficient manner.
Is the art being sold or is it simply being shared without credit/permission?
When doing reverse image searches I’ll often find designs of my character Leroy being used as avatars or album covers on sites like Soundcloud, YouTube, etc. Sometimes I’ll ask to have it removed, especially if it’s been edited poorly or had text added that I’m not comfortable with. Other times I’ll just ask that they credit the art to me and list my website. That works for me, but may not work for you. It’s all a case by case basis and just takes time to find the approach that works best for you.
I found a DJ using a tonne of my art a few years back and rather than go in hard I decided to just talk with the guy. After a slightly tense start to the conversation we ended up getting along really well. He not only paid me for the art that he’d been using (which had been provided to him by someone else) but also commissioned some new pieces. That experience reminded me that you don’t always know the story going in, and it’s worth approaching each situation with an open mind.
But if someone is straight up selling the art on merch of any kind then I’ll always DMCA to get it taken down. If anyone is making money from art it should be the artist.
Is this a new kind of art theft?
Not all situations are what they seem. A few years ago, when contacting art thieves, I started to hear the excuse of “It was part of a bundle of designs I paid for”. I thought this was just an excuse, but recently I found a website that sells bundles of designs that are all upload-ready (and, from all appearances, mostly stolen). It’s an unfortunate situation for anyone buying those bundles, but at the end of the day it’s your art and you have a right to address the issue. You might want to do a straight takedown, or you might want to find a compromise.
How does this impact me?
Knowing someone is earning money by illegally selling your art is an unpleasant experience and potentially takes sales away from your own online sales. Time spent tackling art theft is also time that you could otherwise have spent creating new art and promoting existing work.
Throughout every step of the way it’s always important to keep an eye on your own well-being. When you see your art being stolen on a regular basis it can be quite a distressing and depressing experience. Battling it can sometimes feel futile and have a negative impact on your creative focus.
So always remember to step back, give yourself the time and space to process the situation, and be sure to remain creatively active so that dealing with these things doesn’t become all consuming (I’ve been in that space, it’s not fun and can really weigh you down).