It was bound to happen. One day, you’re casually surfing the web or researching stock illustrations looking for inspiration for a project you are working on and bam! You see your work on a site you didn’t authorize by a person you’ve never heard of. That thief took your original art and tried to pawn it off as their own. Unfortunately, it happens more than you realize.
Milton Glaser’s “I Love NY”graphic is a notorious example of an iconic piece of graphic design that has been misappropriated on a mass scale. Who hasn’t seen this graphic on every New York souvenir under the sun. When Madeleine Morley asked Glaser about the issue, he simply stated, “Sometimes life is tough—all designers want to be influential and see how their work influences others. What is problematic is when influence becomes mindless copying that misunderstands the original intent.”
As a graphic designer I love to look at other designs. An avid fan of Communication Arts, I try to look at that site daily. In my case, I like to see what my contemporaries are doing and what the design trends are. While it may influence some of my work, I make a conscious effort not to copy exactly what I see. Design resources like this show me what colors are trending, what typeface to use in different styles of layouts.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but stealing is wrong. These days it’s so easy to steal on the web without detection. Stealing or copying without credit can make the creator feel violated.
There are some things you CAN do to protect yourself and your work.
Consider copyrighting items you see as high-risk.
Before uploading your art online, digitally watermark it.
Assess the Damage
Once you discover your artwork has been stolen, be prepared to do some research and document your discovery. Has this person taken more images than the one you are aware of? Bookmark the pages where your art resides and print the offending pages if possible.
Find the Culprit
You can obtain the name and some contact info of the person who registered the site if applicable. Type WHOIS in your favorite search engine.
From there, you can obtain the following information:
Registrant’s name and mailing address
The name and site address of the company registered
Date of registration
Administrative contact for the site
Technical contact (usually the person who maintains the site; webmaster)
Server (company hosting the site)
Send an email with high priority and a subject line like: “art usage on your site.” Use the body of the email to inform them that your copyrights have been violated. Firmly yet politely ask them to take down said art. Use specifics and screen shots if necessary and be concise.
If there is no response, put the text of the email into a letter and mail it with confirmation of receipt attached. This provides you with a record that the letter has been received and signed for.
Send another email notifying the person that you may shut down their site if they do not comply. Once the internet service provider (ISP) verifies your claim, they often would much rather take down the site than risk being a party to a lawsuit brought about by their clients.
When the owner of the site is faced with the option of their site being shut down, they generally will comply. If they still do not cooperate, then it’s time to talk to a copyright lawyer. It may be as simple as an official cease and desist letter from a copyright attorney or you may have to seek further legal action. At the very least, a discussion with a lawyer is wise.
Another interesting way to fight this copyright infringement is through social media. Post on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media outlet of choice. Some sites that feature several artists will have a place to “report item”. A crowd is harder to ignore than one person.
Having your original creation stolen is definitely not fun. You can take it as a compliment and do nothing or try the steps listed above. Unfortunately, it takes work and is a headache for you when you did nothing wrong. I was glad to find some useful information while writing this blog post and I hope you never need it.
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