Protecting Your Art: Interview with Alyson B. Stanfield

Alyson B. Stanfield is the author of "I'd Rather Be in the Studio," an excellent book on how to market your art in the digital age. I asked Alyson to do an interview for this blog on the topic of protecting one's art and issues that come up with artists who have written to me. She was kind enough to answer my questions (Photo by Kimberly Lennox).

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
Website --> http://www.artbizcoach.com
Blog --> http://www.artbizblog.com
Book --> http://www.idratherbeinthestudio.com
Twitter --> http://twitter.com/abstanfield
Facebook --> http://www.facebook.com/artbizcoach

P.O. Box 988, Golden, CO 80402, USA
303.273.5904, alyson@artbizcoach.com

Articles on Copyrights

Fear of Getting Your Art Stolen? Look at the Numbers

How to Register You Copyrights Digitally

Artist Protects Copyright Through Twitter

The 10 Key Points That Must Be In Every Licensing Agreement

Protecting Your Designs with Watermark Tools

Photoshop Tip: How to create a customized signature brush

Protecting Your Art: Interview with Alyson B. Stanfield

How to protect your assets in a licensing agreement

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



the famous nemo said...

It always seems to me like the artists with the most crappest work worry about stuff like this, hahaha, I myself tell people to use my images as much as they can, the more eyes on my work the better

Margaret Mair - MairImages said...

A very useful post - thank you!

Joan Beiriger said...

Wow this is great information. I've used meta tags for website pages but didn't realize that you can use them in your Photoshop images. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I found this again, the start of my following Alyson...Artists are concerned about losing control of their creative effort. For me its not the loss of the potential earnings Its that loss of attribution and that sense of violation of my art, my effort & my struggles. My art is always a unique original and never the mass produced copy. Its a genuine personal thing.

Yes there is great pride in my work. It comes from deep inside me. I have thought it through struggled with from conception to its completion and so on. That any image of my artwork might live on without my name attached would be a steal of my memory not so much the cash value.

From what I have seen, copyright violation is just an irrational fear and one that once worried me. The Internet is critical to my marketing efforts. I want people to see my artworks in their best light quickly and simply. Just small low resolution files no watermarks no distracting symbols etc The computer geek can overcome them all. I deliberately leave some small details out of the published image of the artwork so that IF I genuinely find a copyright infringement then I will genuinely know it.

Just like the past masters I too would like the credit for my efforts to be both known and respected.

Rick Turnbow said...

I'm a novice at all of this, just beginning to think about marketing my art. I found this very helpful and will start right now putting appropriate labels and names on my online images. Thank you for the direction.

Ali Bramwell said...

Some of the fear comes from thinking your ideas will be stolen and used before you get a chance to maximise them yourself. If this worries you one way of being sensible is posting images of your work in your online portfolio AFTER you have publically exhibited them.

But I have to say worries me considerably less now I have a few years of practice under my belt. Sometimes I even have a secret smile and think to myself 'let them try and do better than that!' My skills are hard earned and an ideas thief is inherently lazy, there is no real chance they will be able to outdo me now. grin! and besides...Im already doing something new anyway. If anyone want to try and follow in my shadow, well then I'll accept the compliment (imitation is sincere flattery hey?) and say 'good luck keeping up, sunshine!'

I also tend to think that publishing my work online in my portfolio actually protects me to a certain extent because it's a public record of what I did and more importantly when. The point Ms Stanfield made about making sure you credit all your online images properly is really key to this working though!

Great interview, thanks

Ellen Rice said...

All the comments are interesting and I appreciate the different viewpoints.

I am one of those who does put copyrights through images on my website -- because I've had images stolen and used on things like t-shirts, prints, with no credit and no renumeration and preeminently no permission. One man even bragged to me that he was stealing my images and using them. He also bragged he could remove any copyright symbol I put on my images and could get around my "no right click" settings on my website.

I've had people sneak photos of my paintings in my gallery and on the porch outside (hiding around the corner with their camera but caught by a neighboring store owner). They bragged about copying several of my paintings already.

I'm with Ali. I've spent years and years developing skills and techniques and have so many ideas coming to me all the time that copiers will have a very hard time keeping up. What I love to point out to "artists," who as Ali says are being "lazy" copying another's work is this: People, clients, respond to what comes from your heart. You can't borrow that from someone else.