Art Theft and What to Do If You Spot It

I have quite a few friends who are very skilled in visual art. I actually found a number of them through their artwork.

Unfortunately, many of them have been victims of art theft. The most recent incidence involved a ‘professional’ artist who had taken a friend’s image and altered it, before offering it for sale. I won’t go into details of the mess that followed, but it goes without saying that taking someone else’s work and using it to make a profit without regard to their wishes is completely wrong.

I wrote about properly sourcing images here, but I figured I’d write a bit about what to do about art theft in light of recent events.

What Is It?
The name is pretty self explanatory, but art theft happens when someone takes someone else’s image and uses it for their own purposes without the creator’s permission. On the internet, it’s usually done by younger people who may not know better to make things like icons or webpage backgrounds.

However, some so-called professionals will take an image and either sell it as their own or alter it just and offer it for sale. You can usually spot this by comparing the two images. Of course, there are independently created works that can be very similar, but by examining things like angles, pose and physical characteristics, you can see when two works are original and if one is a copy.

This extends into photography, too. For instance, I made the following image for my blog about neurodiversity –

From this entry.

I’d found that quote on the internet quite a while ago, and after some searching, I still couldn’t find the original source, so the credit stayed as Anonymous. (If you know where it came from, please let me know in a comment, so I can change it.)

I had wanted to use a lovely backdrop, so I used a photo I had taken during a trip from the summer as a background.

Pretty sure it was this one. I took about six pictures of the same sunset, since I was messing with the camera settings.

You can probably find a ton of similar images on the internet, but since no one else was taking a picture from my exact angle at the exact time, none of them will be exactly the same as this one. If I had just taken one of those similar images off the internet without checking its origin, I would have committed art theft. Unfortunately, that practice is very common.

(That said, if you’d like to use any of my images, please provide credit to me, link back to this web page and send me a link to where you used it in the comments section. I just ask that you don’t use it for commercial purposes.)

Generally, if you’d really like to use an image and licensing information isn’t readily available, ask the artist if it’s ok to use it. If you can’t contact the artist, and feel you must use the image, at least acknowledge that you are not the creator and provide contact information for anyone who knows who they are to get in touch with you.

What If I Find Stolen Art?
If you do find uncredited art which may be stolen, and have a way to contact the artist, send a link to the person who had originally made the work.

Just because an image is similar to someone’s that you know, there might not be theft involved.  Many people make gift art for others to do with as they please, or they offer images for sale. If you own the rights to an image, be it through sale or gift, you’re not necessarily required to post credit, although it’s nice if you do.

The artist would know if they gave anyone permission to use the image in any shape or form. If the person didn’t get permission to use the piece beforehand, the artist can then approach them an let their wishes be known.

If worst comes to worst, the original artist can take a number of actions, depending on the situation. If the stolen art is posted on a web page like DeviantArt, there’s the option to report the offender and have the piece taken down. If the offender has done this repeated times, their account may be suspended.

If the offender is selling the work on certain forums, like Zazzle or Cafepress, they’re violating the terms of service, and can be reported accordingly.

However, it gets a little trickier if the artist bought a domain and is selling from their own web page. Of course, the best first step is to contact the offender with a professionally worded e-mail. If the offender isn’t cooperative, there is legal recourse if the original artist’s losses are substantial enough and they can prove they created the original image.

Of course, lawyers and court proceedings are expensive, and the expense may not be worth it. In that case, the artist can file a DMCA notice to the web page host. In theory, this notice will require the host to either remove the stolen art or request the offender to do so.

Unfortunately, this may take a while, and you may need to make repeated requests. The level of effort you put into it depends on the individual situation.

The vast majority of art theft seems to be a result of simple ignorance and an underestimation of how much work goes into rendering an image. However, those cases in which unscrupulous people are making a profit off of someone else’s work makes this issue all the more infuriating.

Remember, if you want to use any type of art off the internet for your own purposes, always get permission before you use it and source it properly! You might make some very cool friends, and you will be supporting artists when you do

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