This month, it's all about protecting yourself and your artwork online. We discuss the emergence of fraudulent sites targeting artists, such as the notorious Wallpart.com and suggest what you can do to guard yourself against falling victim to these online con artists.
Over the summer, you may have heard about a website that appeared called Wallpart.com. On completing a quick search, it appears that the website is stealing people's artwork and selling it. Indeed, I have just completed a search for my own work and was angry to see it listed there. However, it would seem that the website is not intending to sell artwork, but farm contact details from those disgruntled artists completing a 'report violation' form.
On completing a search, the Wallpart site simply loads images from Google and presents the results in an online shop format. The website, Artists Info has helpfully investigated this latest scam and reports that 'the Wallpart.com "search" function never actually searches their own listings, because they have none. Confusingly enough, performing the same search multiple times often returns different results at different times throughout the day.'
They go on to explain that on spotting your work online, the natural instinct is to complete the 'report violation' form but 'if you fill it out, no matter what you put there, you will be sending them a LOT more than you anticipated. This is actually the main purpose for the site's existence - they completely anticipate artists being upset about their work supposedly being sold, so they developed a system to exploit those who complain.'
So what can be done? This is just one example of a scam that has emerged which specifically targeting artists. An immediate reaction would be to remove any examples of you work from the internet, but this would be foolhardy as there are far more advantages to having an online presence than not. With a few simple steps, you should be able to enjoy the free publicity a website or HVA Gallery listing brings you without having to worry. I have had opportunities come my way because someone happened to find my website, which otherwise would have passed me by.
The obvious step you can take is to alter the images you use online, thus preventing them from seeming appealing to the passing fraudster. By using lower resolution, or smaller images they will immediately become unsuitable to someone considering repurposing them as their own.
By letting people know that larger, high resolution images are available on request and providing your email address close to hand, this lets genuine buyers know that you are contactable and happy to furnish them with additional information should they be interested in a piece of work.
Another thing you can do to safeguard your images to to watermark them. This is a simple piece of text, website address or image which can be overlaid across your image, thus rendering it useless to someone attempting to copy it, or use it out of context, as seen on the Wallpart.com website. This is quick and easy to do yourself, either by using Photoshop or one of the free online services such as PicMarkr, which lets you to add custom watermark to your images online and free.
If you unexpectidly receive an email from a company inviting you to participate in an exhibition, fair or catalogue, the first step should be to Google the name of the organisation contacting you. A quick search along with the word 'fraud' or 'scam' will soon reveal if the request is genuine. There are many artists out there who have parted with money in the hope that they will receive exposure at a new fair or gallery, only to discover that there has been no curatorial control and the work is simply displayed as a means of making money. Treat it as you would do a local event – ask around, search online and talk to people who may have taken part before to find out what their experience was.
There is no need to be frightened about having an online presence and sharing your work with the world. With a bit of forward planning there is no reason why you can't enjoy all of the benefits of displaying your work online, which I hope will lead to some exciting opportunities for you. If you are keen to find out more on this subject, I have listed some interesting articles below:
How do artists protect their work online?
Here are the answers from a spectrum of artists who share their thoughts. The reader comments at the foot of the article are also worth reading.
How to protect images of your artwork from being stolen online
A practical piece from The Empty Easel blog. Their best advice is to keep images small, but they also consider the pros and cons of doing so.
Protecting images of your artwork online
A helpful step by step guide to changing the resolution of your images in Photoshop.
Stop stealing my images!
A very honest article from The Skinny Artist who recognises that the world wide web is a trade off for artists who are trying to display and sell their artwork online. On one hand it’s a great place for artists to share their work with a worldwide audience, on the other, any images that you put on the web are pretty much fair game if someone wants them badly enough.
By JO ATHERTON