With the increase in the usage of digital media, it has become exponentially easier to take another person’s artwork. Images on the internet can be easily downloaded and re-uploaded onto websites by anyone. I understand that many bloggers, artists and creative users do not fully understand Creative Commons Licenses. So, I hope to provide information of the rights artists are entitled to and suggest ways artists can protect their work in the digital space.
So what is Creative Commons?
When someone creates a piece of work, the law automatically gives the creator “copyright” over their work. This means it is illegal for anyone else, who does not have permission from the original creator, to copy or alter the original work. The UBC resources says that Creative Commons is a non-profit organization which makes it easier for creators to share their work, allowing their work to be used under specific restrictions. Something all creative licenses require are to attribute the creator to the work. UBC lists the 5 things users should include when using another person’s work under creative commons:
- The creator’s name, screen name or user ID (with a link to artist’s website if possible)
- The work’s title or name (and link directly to where the work was found)
- The specific type of license the work is available under (so licence terms can be found)
- The URL (link to original work!)
- Mention if the work is altered or adapted at all (“Based off of…”)
However, not all work online is attributed with the Creative Commons licensing. Such images sources can be found on sites such as Flickr, however, those outside this licensing cannot be used without the permission of the content creator.
Many users online are unaware of these “copyrights” of online, creative content. Art theft is a term artists use for redistributing art without properly crediting the original creator. Nela Dunato, on their blog “How to Deal With Art Theft”, addressed this topic for their insights on the matter. She addresses various types of “art theft” by listing the main problems they have. The problem I’d like to address specifically is “Problem 1: People who just want to share images they love, and they think they’re doing you a favor,” (Dunato, 2012, Para. 3). People who post images with this intention usually do not do it with bad intentions, rather, the poster just are not familiar with copyright law. If the image was not properly credited, it was most likely was found on other sites outside of the artist’s domain, such as Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram and, for anime art, Zerochan.
Zerochan is a large network of reposted anime-styled artwork, mostly from Japanese art websites such as Pixiv. I’ve encountered many users whom downloaded and posted artwork “crediting” this site. What needs to be made clear is that artwork from “Zerochan” is not “properly sourced” and therefore not credit to the original artist at all. In times when you do not have, or know, who the original creator of the artwork is, I suggest to utilize reverse image search tools such as TinEye or Google Search by Image. These tools can recognize images and search for similar images on the web. Sites such as “Deviantart”, “Pixiv” or stand-alone blogs, usually are reliable sources. Please also remember to contact the original creator for permission to repost their work before doing so. If it is for personal purposes and links to the original artists are available, they will most likely agree.
**However, this is often not the case with Japanese artists!! Most do not like their work reposted and would rather have the work get traffic on the original post. Please do not post artwork if the creator tells you not to. They have the right to not share their works.**
What can Artists Do to Prevent the Problem?
Some people may think that artists shouldn’t have to do anything since the problem wasn’t their fault, however, it is a stressful process at times to tell someone to take down their post due to illegal use of your image. There are certain things you can do to prevent art theft on the digital playground as suggested on idesign UK’s blog, How to Protect Your Images from Copyright Theft Online.
- Add your name to All Your Images
- In otherwords, sign your work. This can be easily edited however and shouldn’t be the only “line of defense”
- Watermark your images
- Add a Logo or Signature overtop of the image and lower its opacity. This makes is tremendously more difficult for people to edit out.
These two were suggested on this blog post, however, I believe that this is also an efficient way to prevent copyright.
- Upload the images at a lower resolution.
- Don’t upload images at the highest quality, this makes it harder and less desirable for people to edit the work, while still looking nice digitally.
What if an Art was stolen?
This was not the case of my art being stolen, however, this occurred on a social app I use frequently called “Amino”. Amino is a community run app in which anyone can create a “community” to curate. I am a part of the Danganronpa Amino Community, posting art almost daily and creating theory posts from time to time. Like most communities, the Danganronpa Amino Community has a set of policies regarding stolen/traced artwork and all artists are required to post process/proof images within their post if they would like to get a feature. A feature is when the curators/leaders of the community showcase posts from the community on the app’s home page. This is an opportunity for content creators, big or small, to have many people see and react to their work. On rare occasions a work can be “broadcasted” which means everyone using the app will receive a notification to view the post. This greatly increases the traffic on a creator’s content.
What happened in this case, was an art which was traced had received both a feature AND a broadcast. The “artist” included images of their process, however, something was off about the image to me. This user also has not posted any other art besides this piece, despite having been a member for a while. This was odd for any content creator, most would be posting their art, especially at that skill level, immediately after joining the community. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this piece was traced aside, so I decided to look up the image. In this case, Google Reverse Image Search did not help at all. However, after hours of searching for the original piece, I found it on deviantart.
I opened up my art program, Medibang Paint Pro (it’s a free program, highly recommend!!) and quickly tried to see how similar the two images were and sure enough, they were exactly the same.
On Amino, there is a way to report to the curators of stolen or traced artwork, so I linked the original image and sent a report. A few hours later, the image was taken down.
I realized how many traced artworks are difficult to detect for non-content creators. I was also honestly a bit salty that a non-coloured, sketchy, unpolished piece was featured and broadcasted, so that fueled my motivation to prove they were a thief even greater.
While downloading and reposting art is very easy in the digital realm, you can only legally utilize other people’s creative works if; the work is under Creative Common’s licensing or if you get personal permission from the artist themselves. As an artist, taking steps to prevent plagiarism is to watermark all your work and even upload only images of lower quality online. I hope this blog assisted you in understanding what art you can use, and which art you cannot!
As for my work, as long as I am credited with links directing to one of my accounts, I am more than happy to allow usage of the art. (Though I would love to be asked prior to uploading)
Dunato, N. (2012, Dec. 3). How To Deal With Online Art Theft. Retrieved from http://neladunato.com/blog/how-to-deal-with-online-art-theft/
The IDI Team. (2015, May 4). How to Protect Your Images from Copyright Theft Online. Retrieved from https://idesigni.co.uk/blog/how-to-protect-your-images-from-copyright-theft-online/
UBC. (ND). Creative Commons Guide. Retrieved from http://copyright.ubc.ca/guidelines-and-resources/support-guides/creative-commons/#What_is_Creative_Commons.3F