“Do you think it is necessary to (would you recommend) watermark original drawings on websites? I don’t know if anyone will ever even see this website, let alone steal my images!
Is it necessary to watermark/sign drawings on Instagram? Do you think they detract from the drawings? What do you do?”
This can be a super tricky and triggering topic for people. I’m going to share the answer I shared with her, with some added tips and tricks today.
So. First thing is first: if you share your art in the public sphere (online or offline) you should assume someday someone will steal your art.
Stealing could include:
- sharing it without giving you credit, pretending it’s their art and not yours,
- trying to make prints of it for sale,
- or companies even using your design for their branded products.
It’s all happened before. And it will continue to happen. The real question I have for you is: what do you want to do about it?
I believe the fear that people will steal something really holds a lot of artists back from doing the work they feel called to do in this world. It’s important to ask ourselves what we will do when this happens (because it will someday) and have a plan that feels good to us as an individual so we know what we will do the day it comes.
We are so scared about potential bad things happening we don’t spend the time or effort on doing the work that will get us the money or recognition or social change we seek with our art. It becomes an excuse to avoid the art we want to create and are maybe even scared to create.
What about watermarking?
After we own and accept that theft of our art is likely to happen, we can start thinking about the strategy we want to use to help deter theft as well as how we want to respond to it.
A lot of artists talk about watermarking like it will solve everything. But as someone who uses Photoshop a LOT, I can tell you it’s really easy to remove a watermark. I still think it can be a good idea, but it’s not the cure all people describe it to be.
I like to have a watermark of sorts (my branding logo) on my images so if people DO share the art, there is a brand image to look up should someone want to learn more. You could have a brand logo like I do, your website, you name it. I keep it in the corner, which means it’s easy to photoshop out if someone REALLY wants to do something about it, but it does add some work for the potential thief.
Personally, I can tell you when someone covers their whole image with watermarks making it hard to see the work, I don’t spend as much time looking at the image. In fact, I usually scroll on by. It’s distracting and if an artist who likes to serve artists isn’t interested in trying to see the work behind a wall of watermarks, it makes me wonder how much time others will spend looking at the art, too? I don’t have data to back up my next claim, but this very fact makes me think this limits the sales of their art.
A watermark can be one piece of your puzzle to help deter thieves, but also it’s a great way to help you market your art.
What resolution should my images have for online sharing and promotion?
Another way to deter people from taking and using your art is to make sure your resolution for all of your images is 72 dpi. I have an article with step by step instruction on how to change the resolution of your art linked below here.
Do I own the copyright on my art?
One way to protect your art is to file a copyright –> https://www.copyright.gov/registration/ (this it the US copyright link)
While you naturally own rights to the art you create, filing a copyright gives you greater legal precedent to go after someone using your images. But this could and does mean you will have to invest money in a lawyer if you end up going after someone to stop using your work. Usually the first step is sending a cease and desist order then it can escalate from there.
Another way to establish copyright is to post your art on your website or social media with clear dates of when it was published online. You can save this documentation as evidence of ownership of your image should someone take your art at a later date.
I’m not a lawyer and obviously it would be wise to consult with one, but I’m sharing my experience with you today to help you come to your own decisions on what is the best path for you.
Have you heard of uncopyright?
Uncopyright is the idea that some people choose to give free access to the images of their art, writing, you name it. Read Gwenn Seemel’s conversations around uncopyright, which I’ve linked below. I am fascinated and impressed by her decision to let people use her images as they like: http://www.gwennseemel.com/index.php/copyright/
(And she is a full time artist).
I love sharing her strategy because she proves that you can have a professional career even when you openly share your images for people to use as they like. The fear other people are taking something from us and can somehow prevent our own success as an artist stops some people from even starting, but Gwenn shows us that doesn’t have to be true.
Find Your Unique Voice
The biggest deterrent I can think of in preventing someone from stealing your art is to make art that has unique messaging and voice.
Whenever I see a van Gogh, I know it’s his art. Whenever I see work by Gwenn, who I mentioned above, I know it’s her art. When we find that unique voice, it’s harder for people to steal it.
Unfortunately, many artists are so concerned with their art being stolen they don’t take the time to make enough art to find their voice. And the ONLY way I know how to find your style is to make a lot of art.
If finding your voice feels impossible or like a distant dream I created a 5 part series all about how to find your voice. I’ve linked the start of that series below → https://www.artiststrong.com/how-to-find-your-artist-voice/
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A special thank you to current patrons, I couldn’t do this work without your support.
Big thank you to MaryAnn for sharing her lovely work in the FB group and asking this question. I hope this information gets you thinking about how you want to handle the day someone steals your art and keeps you doing what’s most important: making and sharing your art.
Now, let’s start that conversation: what will be your plan of attack when the day comes that someone steals your art? Comment below and tell me more.
Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time here on Artist Strong.
*disclosure* I am NOT a lawyer. This is not legal advice (something lawyers told me to say, hehe). This IS my personal experience and understanding of navigating copyright. If you want to learn more, do some of your own homework and even better, hire an IP lawyer for a consult on your work.