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How To Discourage Cyberspace Art Thieves

How To Discourage Cyberspace Art Thieves

Aletta de Wal | Artist Career Center

The Internet is a fact of life for artists who want to market their work to people who may not be able to see you and your work in person.

Of course when there are benefits, there are usually drawbacks.

We get a lot of e-mails like this from artists who are frustrated by cyberspace thieves:

“How do we keep people from downloading and using our work from our website? Someone downloaded photos and wants to put them on t-shirts. How do we keep this from happening? Can we put a watermark on them or something?”

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the bottom line is that you can’t keep unscrupulous people from getting your images. Even if you use programming scripts to stop them from right-clicking and getting the image, there are many easy work-arounds. If they are dishonest and want an image, they’re going to get it.

You do have options to make it harder for thieves to snatch your talent:

1. Make files that are visually clear on the web, but that will not reproduce well when printed. Let viewers know that the actual work may not look exactly as the computer image. In fact, it usually looks better. Offer to send a print image to anyone who is serious about buying your work.

2. Put your own watermark copyright notice on each image, in pale white. There are pros and cons to that. The image doesn’t look as good. If they really want the image it’s easy enough to Photoshop out the copyright notice. It doesn’t stop thieves but it does slow them down a bit.

3. Buy software that watermarks your images. It tracks down and documents cyber theft. You still have to make contact and consider legal action, which may be difficult and costly. But again, it might slow them down.

4. Ask serious viewers to call you if they want to see higher resolution images. Set up a password-protected area where they can view a limited number of images of their choice. Not a good idea to do this by e-mail because you still don’t know who you are dealing with. A phone call also gives you a chance to be selective and to start building a relationship that may lead to a sale. Cyber thieves tend to avoid direct contact.

If you know who is doing it, the first step is to contact them directly.

I would start with an e-mail to put this person on notice that you own the copyright to your work. Offer to license the image for the t-shirts. Then call to follow-up. Either you will work out the details of licensing or let them know in no uncertain terms that theft of your images is not okay with you.


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