Image Use and Art Theft

A little while back I wrote an article on how to keep your artwork safe. It was written from the viewpoint of the artist – even though I don’t consider myself one, I was once told that if you create art you are an artist… I’ve even been in an exhibition or two and sold some of my art, so that can’t be bad. However, this week I have spent my time chasing up websites that have used my artwork without permission. Not blogs and the like, although I found my “Ambient” image plastered all over YouTube and lots of music sites I don’t necessarily mind that, but commercial sites that have taken my work and used it to attract business. Sometimes these sites have added things to the pictures (e.g. lettering and other pictures ) or cropped it and that just makes things worse, it’s hard to see your hard work ruined.

Now, I take each instance on an individual basis, but commercial sites should really know better and I do pursue them… in fact this week I’m waiting to hear back from a number of businesses… perhaps I should send them a bill for my time spent chasing them up and a bill for royalties for use of my image?

Does this sound harsh? Perhaps, but this week alone a number of “real” artists I know have also had their artwork stolen and used by businesses, not only to attract custom but these businesses have taken artwork and used it to produce items which are then resold. We can’t assume that all businesses are large and unscrupulous, a few that I have notified myself are sole traders who seem to genuinely not realise that images cannot be used, or permission should be sought first.

I allowed this to be downloaded from deviantArt as a free wallpaper for personal use...can you guess what happened? AND it's watermarked (although very faintly)
Ambient. I allowed this to be downloaded from deviantArt as a free wallpaper for personal use…can you guess what happened? AND it’s watermarked (although very faintly)

So, this week I apologise for a very quickly put together blog post. It’s been a mad old week, full of theatre workshops (I’ve been helping at our local theatre with the annual two-week workshop for its junior members), coursework (I’ve got two short courses on the go at the moment…who says arranging time off work should be relaxing?) and the majority of my evenings  chasing up cases of art theft.

This image of mine was widely circulated. I was stupid, I was green...I originally forgot the (c) statement!
This image of mine was widely circulated. I was stupid, I was green…I originally forgot the (c) statement! And this week I found it again… on a commercial site.

Whether you agree with me or not, any unauthorised use of artwork is art theft.

So… here is a (very) quick guide to using artwork you find on the internet. Please take it in the user-friendly way it is intended… many people are unaware of how to use artwork and how to find the author of the work. By making sure you are legally allowed to use what you find, it will take the stress off of you (illegal use of artwork can end in a court case), and will save an artist having a nasty shock down the line.

  1. Do not assume that anything you find is free and that you can use it. Search engines such as Google and Bing pick up images from across the internet, and do not take into account their origin.
  2. If you find an image on a website, find the attribution… many will say who the artist is and where you can contact them (e.g. a website or sometimes an email address)… if this isn’t there use Google image search or and hunt the artist down. You should be able to find the artist’s website, although sometimes it may take a little time. When you do find them, if there is no reproduction information there, don’t be afraid to ask if you can use the image… a lot of the time an artist is happy to say yes, as long as you state their copyright, direct users to their website etc. Believe me, they would much rather that you asked!
  3. If you like an image and can’t readily find the artist have a look at the images EXIF data (look at the images properties, there may well be information in there which allows you to find the originator).
  4. If in doubt do not use an image, there are plenty of places out there that give you access to free or cheap images. Or why not take a shot at creating your own images – it’s not as difficult as you may think.

Places you may find royalty free images:

Creative Commons, allows you to search by license… you can find images that are allowable in a variety of ways, pick the one that most suits your uses and have a search.

Flikr is a great place to find images, just have look at how the author allows the image to be used. There is also a Flikr Creative Commons page.

The website is a great repository of links showing you where to find images. They also give you a quick breakdown of what all the licenses mean, helping you stay within the law.

There are other websites that help you find images too… and if you are looking for artwork for your business, a few pounds spent at websites such as those listed below may well be worth it.

So please, think before you use an image that you find. For many artists their work is their bread and butter, while they create works to be admired, they also need to earn a living. You wouldn’t steal from a shop, so please don’t steal from an artist.

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