1. Some artists are afraid to put their art online because they think it will be stolen. They often cite tragic stories to justify this. Deep down, psychologically, what exactly do you think artists are "truly" afraid of? It seems to be more than just a loss of potential earnings.
Artists are justifiably concerned about losing their identity. It's not necessarily the earnings' loss they fear. It's the loss of attribution.
Artists have great pride in their work. What they create comes from deep inside of them. The fear that their images might live on without their names attached to them is very real. I don't want to diminish this in any way.
At the same time, you have to get past the fear in order to expand. Holding on to the fear keeps your work safe, but at what price?
From what I have seen, copyright violation is most often feared by artists who are self taught or didn't attend art school. There is no judgment here as I work with artists of all backgrounds. But I have witnessed this phenomenon closely over the past 10 years as the Internet has become critical to an artist's marketing efforts.
When you go through art school, you're more aware of art history and how styles, subjects, and conventions have been shared among artists. Artists from this arena are less inclined to be fearful of ideas being "stolen" even though they want just as much to have the credit for their work.
2. Artists have a variety of strategies to protect themselves online, such as watermarks and password protected access to portfolios. How do you determine whether these types of strategies are protecting you, or actually sabotaging your growth?
Keep in mind that the art world I'm most comfortable with is that of original fine art. Art licensing and stock photography are industry areas I don't consult in and would require a completely different answer.
I'm not averse to artists who use small copyright attribution at the very bottom or side of an image. I am against giant names and © symbols through the center of an artwork. Don't put it online if we can't see it and appreciate it for what it is. Watermarking through the center of a work gets in the way of our viewing. It's like putting a sign through the middle of an original.
Password-protected portfolios are actually a terrific solution for artists who want to limit viewing of their art. They're not for artists who want bigger audiences. They're for those who want to provide higher resolution images to a certain set of eyes.
Password-protected portfolios can also be used by artists who want to give their A-list people a sneak peek before the whole world sees--a first shot at the work. Giving your most important collectors a password makes them feel special.
3. Some artists get upset if they feel their images were used without permission, and yet these same people may think nothing of "borrowing" music, software or text without permission. Aren't they all the same? Shouldn't we be walking our talk?
I think it goes without saying that artists should respect the intellectual properties of other artists. I'd add appropriating original photographs to your list. Too many artists think nothing of copying a photograph they found online or in print. Just because you change the medium doesn't mean you haven't violated copyright.
4. What are the basic actions we should take to protect our art?
In my eyes, the most important thing an artist can do to protect her work online is to add a credit line. This is where most artists fail. I'm shocked at how many artists don't take this simple step. You wouldn't install your art without a label, so why do you display it online without giving yourself credit for it?
An artist recently told me she'd be happy for me to share her art on my blog as long as it had proper attribution. Ha! She didn't even have proper attribution on her own site! You can't expect others to treat your work better than you treat it. If you want people to behave in a certain way, you have to model that behavior.
A proper credit line includes your name, title of the image, medium, and size. You would also include the copyright. Most fine artists would add this outside of their images, but you could do it indiscreetly at the very edge of an image--IF you're so nervous about your images that you're paralyzed to post them.
Also, give your image files strong names with your name in the image. Something like:
If someone takes your image and doesn't change the name of the file, you could probably find it through a Google search.
Along the same lines, artists who do their own websites tend not to add meta data to the images. Images should have a title and alternate text included. It's my understanding that Facebook and perhaps some other sites strip meta data and rename your image files, so be aware of that.
Artists who license their images are more likely to have the © within the frame of the image.
Registering copyright at copyright.gov is an added layer of protection for artists. It is particularly useful if litigation, heaven forbid, is required.
Alyson B. Stanfield
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Articles on Copyrights
Free Booklets from the Copyright Office
PDF Copyright Basics
PDF Registering a Copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office
PDF Make Sure Your Application Will Be Acceptable
PDF Cartoons and Comic Strips
PDF Have a Question About Copyright Registration?
PDF Make Sure Your Application Will Be Acceptable
PDF Publications on Copyright
PDF Copyright Notice
Legal Books for Artists:
Legal Guide for the Visual Artist, Fifth Edition
Copyright Law for Artists, Photographers and Designers (Essential Guides)
The Copyright Handbook: What Every Writer Needs to Know