I remember how wary I felt about posting my artwork online. Will people like it? What if I get bad comments? What if people tell me my work sucks?
Navigating fears of rejection are difficult. This alone prevents many, many artists from sharing their work with the world. But this isn’t our only concern.
What are our rights as artists to the visuals we post?
Rejection was scary enough to consider, but now the perceived inevitable could occur: what if someone steals my work?!
It does happen. Artists find an image of their painting sold on a website making prints. Large companies stealing imagery they find online to create pattern designs or jewelry knock-offs. I’ve read about it. And then there are the big scary social media companies we must work with to share our art with the world. What if they steal our art? What happens then?
As if potential rejection wasn’t difficult to face, when most artists think about this they give up the idea of sharing their art in the first place.
I conduct a lot of interviews with Artist Strong, as many of you know. And I’m astounded by the number of artists who hold back from promoting themselves via social media, or via websites like mine, because “someone might steal my art.” My heart sinks when I observe this and I want to reach out. But this isn’t about digital theft. This is about creative mindset.
In the end, I can always find artists willing to share their story and their art, so it doesn’t directly impact me, but this mindset truly hurts artists. In fact, I often see it is an excuse so that artists never really have to try to market or promote their artwork. The rationale is as follows:
“If I have a value-based ideology against people stealing my work it’s okay not to share it, or it’s okay to place watermarks that are so large no one can actually see the artwork. Because, I’m protecting my work.”
I was there once, in my early stages of social media feeling the fear everyone else did: “Facebook is going to steal my art.” I even wrote an article about it. Now, I feel a bit silly about it, because it’s part of a fear-mongering attitude that discourages artists from sharing their art. It’s also honest: I’ve felt that fear and discomfort at the idea of some social media company stealing my art.
Sharing and Success
Then I interviewed people like Gwenn Seemel, who showed me even with her conscious choice to “uncopyright” her art, she is making a full-time living from her art.
I also think of HONY – Humans of New York, an amazing photography project that wouldn’t exist if Brandon hadn’t shared his images on social media. It’s given him world wide reach and the opportunity to do some amazing things in his life, as well as impact others.
A new artist also comes to mind that I just read about. Her name is CJ Hendry and she has built a huge following on Instagram. She was working 15 hour days to get artwork out and share it with the world. And guess what, now her artwork sells for as much as her one year salary working at a boutique in Australia. She was found through Instagram, because she chooses to share her art.
Let’s look at this in it’s worst case scenario: what is the worst that will actually come from you sharing your artwork online?
What do you think Facebook would do with your artwork? They are a company worth so much money, I can’t even imagine it. They are fully concerned with their bottom dollar, which means big, systemic changes to things like their Facebook Ads to increase their profit. Why would they want any artist’s artwork? What would they do with it?
I try to imagine what use they’d have for an image of Starry Night and I draw a blank. When I ask myself this question now it kind of makes me giggle. I feel a bit sheepish for thinking my artwork, some of which has been exhibited in prestigious galleries, is going to be used by Facebook.
Can you please share the story of an artist whose career was completely destroyed by a company or someone stealing their artwork? If you know one, please, email me. Please, share it in the comments. Because right now I have no opposing evidence that suggests even if awful, illegal stealing does happen, that it’s the absolutely end of the world.
Do you know what is actually the end of the world? Your decision not to create or not to share your art with others; all out of fear based dialogues like above.
This negativity around sharing artwork is more likely a mask for artists’ general disdain for marketing. This is fine. You do not have to market. But if you wish to make a living from your art, you must share and show your art. If you wish to share and sell your art, or exhibit it in galleries, you must market your art. ALL artists who make a living from their art market. Salvador Dali was a walking advertisement of his brand. We revere his artwork as important and skillful today, we don’t hold him in disdain for his antics (cough, cough, marketing).
Keeping your (He)Artwork Safe
There is such thing as copyright, and it exists as soon we create the work. However, if we are truly fearful about someone stealing our art, we can easily file an additional notice of copyright to protect our artwork. (This is true in the USA).
Additionally images online do NOT need to be high resolution. This is an easy preventative measure for your work to be protected. Companies cannot work with small images if they plan to create patterns or jewelry designs from your image. People can steal your small image, but it won’t be of the quality needed to be uploaded illegally to a licensing site like RedBubble.
You can always put away your paintbrushes forever, but we all know how well that works out for everyone. We create art for ourselves, and to connect with others. Choosing not to share our artwork isn’t just a rejection of a somewhat faulty system, it’s a rejection of ourselves.
I know how important art is for the world, and for the people who make it: making art makes the world a better place. We experience less stress, we connect more with other people, and it offers a means of coping during difficult times. Too many people remain in a holding pattern of fear rather than choose their creative interests. Don’t let today’s obstacles be your excuse, because that is what they are: avoidance behaviors for doing what you feel called to do, but are scared to embrace.
I can’t promise you no one will steal your art, but I can assure you by choosing never to share your work, or placing watermarks that are so large we cannot see your art, your work will never get the credit it probably deserves.
Will someone steal your art if you share it online? Maybe. In fact, the better answer is to assume yes. More importantly, you need to decide what you will do about it the day you see it happen. Creating an action plan will help alleviate the helplessness and frustration you will feel if this happens. Be proactive about your fears so you can move forward with the celebration your art deserves!
MOST importantly, you need to choose your art, your heart, and your desire to create. When we create we want to share it with loved ones, with friends, and sometimes even with the world at large. Stop using social media policies and fears of “what ifs” from doing your work.
If you choose not to share your work because of these concerns, you are the thief: you hold the rest of us back from enjoying and celebrating your creative achievements.
“Choosing not to share our artwork isn’t just a rejection of a somewhat faulty system, it’s a rejection of ourselves.” (Click to Tweet)
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: What will be your strategy to deal with digital theft of your artwork? Share your plan of action below. Let’s build a resource for everyone living with this fear so we all know and act on this truth: our art is worth sharing with the world.
(Full disclosure: I am NOT a lawyer, have no plans to be one, nor have consulted a lawyer for this article. If you want to learn more about proper procedures for copyrighting artwork in your home country please consult appropriate parties. Again, don’t let fear stop you from addressing this problem. Create a solution and plan of action to promote and celebrate your art. You deserve it.)
One thing I’ve started to do is watermarking the large images I share. I’ve been sharing my art for a couple of years and my graphics and crafts for a lot longer than that. I’m not afraid of theft, but I’d rather take some precautions, now that I’m trying to get an income from it.
Hi Linda! Every artist needs to have a strategy that feels in line with their goals for their art. I’m glad you feel this will help do that. 🙂
It isn’t 100 % fool-proof, but at least it discourages some people. I mostly share cropped and smaller pictures and the large one now get the watermark. I’ve been sharing large pictures for years, so I’m sure some of them have been used by others. But I don’t let it bother me now. There’s no point in thinking about it.
Thank you for sharing your strategy – I hope it helps other artists develop their own. 🙂
My pleasure Carrie 🙂 I hope so too
This is a good one , because alot of people take credit for work that is not their own.
I have had work stolen and copied. I used to photograph snowmobile racing and had somebody buy 4×6 prints from me, since I marketed this way, instead of online. I had in the beginning paid to have a custom website made and discovered that people tech savvy enough could download anything I posted online, despite being assured that my site would be safe. That was $350 dollars wasted.
And once somebody has a picture to show on facebook, thats all they really want, is to show off to their friends and get lots of likes.
I show up at a race and discovered that some of my 4×6 prints had been scanned and were now being displayed on the side of a $100,000 race trailer. I pointed out what they did was illegal, and wrong. Sadly, I could not afford a legal fight against somebody that was a partner in an accounting firm, when I was just a broke guy trying to earn a living.
I ended up physically sick because of this incident (and they still insist they were within their rights, as they were in the photos), and since they bought them they can do as they please. I then was so physically ill that photographing auto racing was a struggle, and I had to get away from the whole event photography market.
So it can and has happened.
I now do railroad photography, and once my website is up and running, all images will be watermarked using a large low opacity watermark. Its a trick I learned from a sportscar photographer friend. He makes it such a hassle to remove, the watermark, that its not worth the effort to do so.
Gary thank you very much for sharing. We all need strategies for taking care of ourselves and our art and I hope your experience can help others make good decisions for themselves.
I hope more photographers comment here because it is something I’ve heard more from photographers than other artists (issues of using their images).
I’m not sure about rights of people in photos that others take. It would be good to look up the legality of this. I’m curious, did you get their permission to take the photo or have them sign something about permission for being in the photo? Some photographers do this to help protect themselves as well. That’s about all I know with regard to this kind of issue.
I’m sorry to hear a bad incident has held you back from creating. Not everyone is like this and NOT creating is not an option for most with the desire to be creative. People give up on their art because of bad situations and it makes them no happier, thus my motivation for this article. I’m glad you have found a way to redirect your creative interest. I hope you can at some point consult a lawyer because you may still be able to file a cease and desist. Buying an image of your work is not the same as buying the license to use your image. You could, in fact, come into some money that they owe you because of this. Some lawyers have free consultation services before you sign agreements that involve pay, so you could learn more if you choose to fight the theft.
Thank you for sharing and best wishes Gary. I hope your watermarks help create Facebook shares that redirect to you and your website and that you brave the internet to share your work!
what i share on fb is usually small images that would be hard to reproduce. mostly i am not really afraid of theft…i have a picture in my mind of a sharing tree…that the time and energy i would be spending on worrying about that one apple taken from my tree without permission, while letting the rest of the apples fall to the ground and rot. i do plan on putting watermarks on bigger images, i put copyright on my pages, but don’t have a big plan around how i will deal with theft once found…
My husband is professional photographer, he found out a company had stolen one of his images and was using it in their advertising in deceitful manner, it didn’t even match what they were actually trying to sell…he confronted the people,,and let them know that it was unethical and gave him his mind… they continued on using it anyway…My husband decided he was too busy with good clients and work to let it become a sore spot and let it go, he didn’t want to put any more time or good money into a suit that may or may not pan out…we figured they would have their just desserts in one form or another and he put his energy back onto all the other apples.
Bonnie thank you for sharing I really enjoy hearing how artists are navigating these issues. I’m of the same philosophy as you about where I place my mental energy and this is why I wrote today’s message. Bad things happen to good people all the time, it’s how we deal with those situations that measures us. Having plans in place to help us navigate our fears can help us from holding back from being creative at all.
I love your Sharing Tree concept …it makes the idea of wasted energy easy to visualize and understand.
Thanks Linda! I appreciate your time. Thanks for reading. 🙂