Email Question from reMINDblog.com:
I want to set up a site kinda like yours where I can upload pages and build an audience for my book as I’m creating it. My biggest fear is someone seeing my art/characters/story and stealing it. How do I protect my work?
I think you have all the reason to be paranoid about your art being stolen. However, if someone wants to steal it they will steal it. Anything you put online has that risk but in my mind as long as you watermark every piece you post you are at least advertising your site and yourself if your images start floating around. Even if you publish your work in a book, someone could rip it off. Honestly, I see designers do this everyday at major studios and I think it’s completely stupid and un-artistic, but they get away with it most of the time. Remember, if someone goes through the trouble of removing a watermark it turns it into a “willful infringement” situation which is a much stronger case in court.
I used to send everything to the copyright office religiously, but it just slowed me down and never allowed my work to be seen by the public. Plus, if you copyright sketches then you are only protecting the reproduction of these exact sketches. Also, your work is technically copyrighted as soon as you create it. Just make sure to keep all your original files backed up with the creation date within the file in case you need to attack someone who rips you off later.
I have also heard of agencies jamming tons of papers and pictures and sketches on a project into once folder to be sent to the copyright office. In this way you can save money by registering one copyright rather then many for each drawing.
If you are really paranoid then you can use a site like http://www.tineye.com/ to do a search of your popular images to see who else might be using it.
More thoughts I have are simple. If someone rips me off for their little stupid personal project then I really don’t care. But if I find someone publicly stating that they drew my art and getting massive attention from it then you can bet I will stop at nothing to make them pay. Especially if they are making any money from it. Copyrighting your work is a continual process of seeing what others are doing with it. You just have to be on the lookout. There’s no other way. But if you don’t let anyone see your work then what does it matter if you are protecting it? You need to establish a fan base before it becomes important.
The very best protection I’ve seen recently is just getting your work out there and building a fan base. Fans will end up reporting things to you that they see and I’ve seen fans bring people to their knees when they dare rip off an artist they admire.
Don’t be afraid to get your work and your name out there. If you are truly creative, like you think you are, then you have a million ideas floating around in your head. Stop worrying so much if one stupid piece of art gets ripped off slightly by hot topic. Stop worrying about a high school kid tracing your cool picture because they were inspired by it exactly the same way you traced over a million of your favorite artists when you were starting out.
Honestly, this is more of an idea that I’ve seen work for others without being conscious of it. I’m not sure if you could find any books that will tell you to grow an online fan base to protect your work. But I’ve seen it work several times now in just the last few years alone. I’m not talking about super famous people either, more like people on deviantart who have a few thousand watchers or artists who have 800 Twitter followers.
When someone reports to the artist that they have been ripped off, the fans just go buck wild and send so much hate mail to the criminal that it’s almost career ending if not emotionally unhealthy for the poor person.
I’ve seen books get pulled off shelves for plagiarism and cancelled by famous people. Look up Nick Simmons plagiarism.
I’ve seen contest winners who won thousands of dollars for entering plagiarized artwork into a contest get the prize money ripped out of their hands from major publishers because of all the fan mail sent on behalf of the artist (by angry fans) complaining that it’s unfair.
I’ve seen people who stole artwork write long apology letters to entire forums. Talk about devastating. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that kind of thing happening before the internet made it easy to become a avid fan of your favorite artist.
I’ve seen t-shirts get pulled from major clothing stores because some twitter fans tweeted the original artist, who had no idea they were using her art on a t-shirt. All the artist did was tweet a link to both versions saying, “What’s up with that?”. The company sent her an apology that day and pulled the shirt line.
I’m not saying to ignore the rules of copyright law or to never worry about it. I’d still file a package with as much stuff as you can fit. But your fans might just prevent you from ever needing to use that filed paperwork in the first place.
So in other words. Put watermarks on everything you do. Get it out there to the public eye so you can start building a following. Have a copyright on the bottom of your website too. When you have a finished book PUT A COPYRIGHT NOTICE ON IT, AND FILE IT WITH THE COPYRIGHT OFFICE AS SOON AS IT’S PUBLISHED. Beyond that, it is just to hard to keep track of every grade-schooler who might be inspired by your art. Don’t stress about it too much otherwise you will never get anything out there and it will all stay safely in your house for only you to see.
If you want your name to get out there THEN USE YOUR NAME!
One thing is important before you start posting things online is to use your real name. I just don’t get why an artist would want to use a fake name like PunchZombies2007 as their name on Deviant Art and then CoolCamper on Twitter and the name of their email address is another random thing. If you are an artist, your name is a brand! If you want everyone to know that you drew your art then put your STINKING NAME ON IT AND QUIT CRYING ABOUT SOMEONE RIPPING YOU OFF. If you really wanted to protect your work then plaster your REAL name all over it. All of my usernames are as close to my full name as possible. When I post my work online I put my name on it clearly. When I write an article, I say it was written by me. People don’t need to be any more confused than they already are. Oh wait, I’m just talking about myself.
(Disclaimer: I am not a copyright lawyer in any way. Please consult a REAL copyright lawyer before you throw caution to the wind. These are simply my thoughts on the subject.)