Jo's Web Wizardry

In this monthly column, I often hail the many advantages of using the internet to promote one’s work, but this month I consider some of the risks of placing your artwork online, and explore the legal side of online copyright, should the worst happen.

Discovering that someone has been copying your artwork is nothing new. Copycats easily gain inspiration from exhibitions, catalogues or anywhere you choose to display your work. These people existed long before the Internet, but the online world we live in does certainly make it easier for them.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

From the very first moment that you create something, be it a drawing, painting, ceramics or a photograph, you own the copyright to that image and only you are allowed to copy it. If you decide to sell prints of your work, that is fine, but no one else is allowed to do so, even if they have purchased the original from you.

What you can do is add a copyright symbol next to your artwork. Where this won’t actually prevent someone from taking the image if they are determined enough, it serves as a deterrent. Even without the symbol, you still own the copyright but by using it, perhaps it will make someone reconsider taking your images if they feel you’re legally protecting yourself. explains that ‘if you find out that someone HAS “infringed” on your copyright, and you can prove that the copyright symbol was next to the image of your artwork that they copied, you’ll have a very strong case against them if the issue ever goes to court—which is exactly why so many artists choose to put up that copyright notice.’

Another thing you can do is add a watermark to your images. It serves as a visible embedded overlay which can be a copyright message, website address or even your logo. As before with the copyright symbol, the presence of such won’t stop the very determined copycat from using your image without permission, it makes it more difficult for them to do so.

Watermarks can be removed, as can copyright symbols, but generally people copy out of laziness and it seems unlikely that someone would go to the trouble of manipulating images to remove your well placed text if they can’t be bothered to create their own artwork in the first place.

An example of how one artist dealt with someone copying their work can be seen in Lori McNee’s article, How I Stopped A Copycat Artist on Facebook. She explains how she discovered someone producing exact copies of her paintings and how she dealt with the issue.

Should I be worried?

If you worry about people copying your work, you may as well never show your art in public, for fear of exciting the copycat. This may work if you paint or draw for a hobby, but if you are trying to make a living from your creativity, never showing your work simply isn’t practical.

Personally, I feel the benefits of showing one’s work online far outway the risks of someone copying your work. The Internet allows you to reach a worldwide audience, connect with like minded creatives and share ideas, techniques and experiences.

Despite the risks of putting your artwork online, the Internet does make it possible to discover when someone has been copying your work. Before websites and social media networks, we had no idea whether someone had been duplicating our masterpieces, but now, at least it is possible to spot these unscrupulous individuals and catch them in the act.

Further reading