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How Can Artists Protect Their Art Online?

In a follow up from last week’s blog post about copyright infringement and how to avoid it, I am looking at the other side of the coin and investigating how artists can protect their work from being stolen online.  However, I must offer the caveat shared by Drew Kimble, author of the article, “Stop Stealing My Sh*t,” that there is no foolproof guarantee that any of these measures can protect an artist’s work. Indeed, according to Kimble, if a thief has the technological know-how, they can steal an artist’s work. However, in the words of Kimble, there are strategies which can be used in an effort to deter thieves from unlawfully using an artist’s content.

One of these methods which artists can use to protect their artwork is called watermarking (Kimble, https://skinnyartist.com/stop-stealing-my-images/   . This approach involves creating a mark in a photo editing program, such as PhotoShop, often incorporating your name and the year in which you created the art. (ibid) I first learned about this technique when I was taking a Business of Art Class, taught by local photographer and art business coach, Rebecca La Chance, of Thurmont, MD. Previously to taking this class, I had not thought about protecting my artwork very much, as I had viewed it more as a hobby than a business. However, since 2017, when I made the shift from hobby artist to art business entrepreneur, I have been thinking more about the issue of copyright, both with regard to avoiding copyright infringement, and also how to protect my artwork from being stolen. As I started to do research about copyright infringement, I was shocked about how much art online has been copied wholesale from celebrity photographs and is for sale as handmade art on websites such as Etsy. And there is no way to know with certainty that the artist who made this artwork actually asked the photographer for permission to use their source as a reference for their art.

It is one thing to copy another artist’s work in order to learn from it and to give credit to that artist, as I have done with my master copies. However, it’s quite another thing to steal another artist’s work and take the credit for it. I’d like to think that some artists are ignorant about this issue, and to give them the benefit of the doubt. I hope that is true, but I don’t know if that is true in all cases. Copyright infringement certainly wasn’t a topic that came up in my art classes at college. However, I think it should be addressed, since these college courses in graphic design, painting, illustration, and photography are supposed to prepare artists for the professional world after they graduate, as graphic designers, animators, photographers, professional illustrators, and artists, etc.

More to the point, I think artists who steal others artwork are robbing themselves of the opportunity to create their own work and grow as artists. Although it may take more effort to take your own photos, the hard work is well worth it, because you get an opportunity to learn about the principles of composition, light, etc., and these fundamentals are critical components of making art in any medium.  These principles can help you make higher quality art in general, as composition and lighting are important aspects of making attractive artwork.

On the other hand, I admit that when I was a teenager, I used celebrity photographs to learn how to draw portraits from magazine covers. The truth is, I had no clue about copyright laws at the time. But, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t offer these drawings for sale or display at an art gallery or any of my commerce shops, such as Etsy and Red Bubble. I have also used the celebrity photos as a learning tool in my 100 faces in 100 days drawing challenge, but these drawings were not for sale, and I frequently gave credit to the photographer’s name in my Instagram posts. I feel now though, that I want to step it up a notch, and not even use copy written photos at all as a reference, but to search for public domain photos, or better yet, learn to take good photos of my own, so that the artwork I create can be more original.

Of course, the issue of artistic theft is not a new one, because, in the past, art was stolen by artists who made forgeries of other artists work such as the famous case of the so-called Vermeer paintings, (i.e. Amsterdam vs. Han Van Meegren (1947). Source: “The Essential Vermeer,” retrieved from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/misc/van meegren.html. So with all this being said, should artists stop making their art available to others through the World Wide Web or not? And if artists decide to post their art online, what are the options to protect their art from thieves? To make this decision, I think artists need to weigh the pros and cons of posting their artwork online to decide how to market their art. And they also need to look at the options available to them to safeguard their artwork online by researching different methods, such as watermarking, slice and dice, disable right click, and shrink wrapping, (Kimble, https://skinnyartist.com/stop-stealing-my-images).

On the benefits side of posting artwork online, artists can gain a wider level of exposure for their artwork than ever before, on a worldwide level, (ibid) by using the world wide web to post their artwork on social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram. They can also sell their artwork online through online galleries such as Art Fire or Daily Paintworks. In the past, such opportunities did not exist and artists were completely dependent on currying the favor of art gallery owners in order to obtain a platform for their artwork. Now, any artist can get their artwork into the public eye without having to pay for application fees. If you have electricity, an internet connection, computer, and cell phone, you can post your artwork to a plethora of websites, for a minimal expense. Added to the social media channels I have already mentioned, are online art galleries which are subscription-based, such as Art Fire and Daily Paintworks, at www.dailypaintworks.com,  created by artist Carol Marine. Many of these require only a small monthly subscription fee with an unlimited amount of posts for an artist’s artwork, which can be linked to commerce sites such as eBay and Etsy, so artists can control their sales completely. Best of all, there is often no jury panel involved to become a member of these online art galleries.

On the other hand, if artists opt out of posting their artwork online, they are much more limited in their ability to gain new followers or control their sales. It can also be more expensive to get your artwork in front of influential decision makers such as art gallery owners and art jury panel members. In this instance, you are limited to the gallery shows you are accepted into and more traditional art events such as art festivals and fairs, which often involve the traditional jury system to gain admittance. Moreover, it can be discouraging to artists (especially emerging artists), to receive one rejection letter after another, especially when they don’t know why their artwork is being rejected. To be successful with this approach, you need a thick skin, perseverance and a specific plan to find galleries who will be a good fit for your art. It can often be like trying to find a job, in that you are trying to make a match between the artwork you create and the artwork that a specific gallery already promotes. This process cannot be random to be successful.

Another option is for artists to choose to combine their art gallery shows with an online presence in social media channels such as Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. In this case, you can probably attract more fans and customer and the instant feedback you receive from your posts can be encouraging and help you to create more art. So, if you decide to go this route, you have several options to protect your artwork from unlawful use. These options include watermarking, slice and dice, shrink wrapping and disabling the right-click option (Kimble). The different strategies I mentioned are described in detail in Drew Kimble’s article, “Stop Stealing My Sh*t,” with an analysis of each method involved. A tutorial for watermarking is embedded in the above-mentioned article. If you are interested in learning more about these techniques you can click on the link, https://skinnyartist.com/stop-stealing-my-images/.

Robert Frost in wooded landscape.
Here is a photo of my box project in progress. I used Liquitex acrylic paints to create a monochromatic underpainting. I plan to complete the box in color, and it will illustrate the poem, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost.
Three dimensional cube with portrait and landscape painting.
This photo shows the box from a higher vantage point and shows the other sides. I plan to include text on the lid of the box from the poem, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Night, so viewers can make the connection between the poem and the illustration.

 

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Copyright Guidelines for Artists: How to Avoid Copyright Infringement

If you’ve been following my blog posts for a while, you’ve probably seen my Voices and Visions poetry illustration series, which I have posted on my blog. Some of these feature celebrity portraits, such as my Maya Angelou portrait, And Still I Rise, and my biographical portrait of singer/songwriter, Sting. To create these portraits, I have combined several photographic sources to make a photo collage in Adobe Photoshop as references for the drawings and paintings for my poetry series. I want to avoid copyright infringement, especially since some of the photos are photos of celebrities.  In addition, I have seen celebrity portraits often on websites such as Etsy and Pinterest and I have wondered, what constitutes copyright infringement when using photographic sources other than your own?  Is there such as thing as changing the photographic source “enough” to make it your own, or not?

Since I am new to the word of art entrepreneurship, the concept and understanding of copyright infringement with regard to the visual arts are somewhat new to me. On the other hand, I have heard about the subject in passing, such as in the celebrated case of the Obama poster campaign portrait, in Associated Press vs. Fairey, (2009), in which a photo of former President Barak Obama taken by AP freelancer, Mannie Garcia, was used by graphic artist Shepherd Fairey to create a campaign poster for Obama. ( Source: Kaitlyn Ellison, 2014, 5 Famous Copyright Infringement Cases (and what you can learn, retrieved from https://99designs.com/blog/tips/5-famous-copyright-infringement-cases/). Accessed 16 January 2018.  As a former history major in college, I am much more familiar with the issue of plagiarism with regards to the written word, as in not citing your sources in research papers and essays, etc. When I was a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, if a student was found guilty of plagiarism, with regard to a term paper or essay, they would be booted out of the University, permanently. As a result, I meticulously cited my sources as I took notes, and double and triple checked for paraphrasing and direct quotes during each draft of a research paper. I know many of the guidelines which refer to that sort of subject, such as you should always cite your sources when you give direct quotes or paraphrase another person’s ideas, both in the body of your paper as footnotes and at the end of your paper as works cited page. In fact, there are even websites devoted to the study of specific types of citation methods such as APA style, Chicago style, etc., which you can learn about on the Purdue Online Writing Lab which can be accessed on the following link,https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/, and how to implement these styles in a college essay.

On the other hand, the world of artistic copyright infringement seems murkier to me.  How do artists avoid copyright infringements when creating art and how do they protect their own works from unlawful use or theft?  To find out, I started researching some articles online about copyright infringement…I discovered that there is no magic formula for changing a source photograph enough to make it original and that it is far better to use your own photos if at all possible, according to the author, Helen South, 2017, of the article, What Artists Need to Know About Copyright. On the other hand, if this is not possible, as, in the example of using photos of celebrities, artists can make use of websites such as Wikimedia or Wikipedia to look up photos of specific celebrities. (ibid) These websites give details about the provenance of each photo, such as whether it is copy written, the photographer’s name, date of creation, and whether or not this photo is available for use, and under what terms. The photographs have a citation that states, its sources, such as the photographer that took the photo and whether it is labeled public domain or creative commons. (ibid)

Be sure to read all the notations about the artwork to be sure it is not copy written and to understand the conditions for which it may be used.  Finally, another example of copyright usage is when artists make master copies of other artists work for their own study and development. For example, well-known artists such as Mary Cassatt, considered studying the old masters and copying their work to be an integral part of an artist’s education, and she copied old master masters, by Italian artist, Correggio.  (Source: The Art Story: Modern Art Insight, Mary Cassatt, American Draftsman, Painter and Printmaker, retrieved from http://www.theartstory.org/artist-cassatt-mary.htm, Accessed on 19 January 2018. Biography.com, Mary Cassatt: Painter, (1844-1926), retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/mary-cassatt-9240820. Accessed on 19 January 2018. and Getlein, Frank.  Mary Cassatt: Paintings and Prints, Abbeville Press Publishers: 1980, New York, pg. 12.

It is important to label your master copies with the notation, After (Artist’s Name). You can also add additional information such as the title of the work, date of creation, medium, and the date that you executed your version of the masterwork on the back of the painting. In addition, to avoid claims of plagiarism or worse yet, art forgery, I never sell my masterworks and only use them to learn more about technique and I always give credit where credit is due. If I post them on my website or elsewhere, such as Instagram, I clearly indicate that they are master copies with all of the details about the picture’s provenance. This article is by no means comprehensive about the ins and outs of copyright law regarding visual art

portrait of Sting
Here is the updated version of my biographical portrait of Sting. It is a mixture of acrylic and watercolor paints and pencil. I am still working out the composition and the water reflections.

and is only intended as a basic introduction to the subject. Thank you for stopping by!