The Art Industry is a vast and open sea filled with wonderful opportunities, beautiful horizons— and sharks. Lots of them. As artists, we’ve all heard stories about art theft. An artist’s work is unfairly taken by a bigger company; no credit, no pay, and they get away with it with no consequences.
My Own Experience
I’m writing this based on my own experience earlier this year with a new local store. The gist of the entire incident was that the store sold my work without crediting me as the artist (sounds familiar already?) despite my numerous attempts to bring up my concerns with the owner.
Unfortunately, it came to a point that I had to post the entire story online. My post gained substantial attention, and it was only then that the store owner apologized for her actions and agreed to stop selling my work.
After the incident, fellow artists and my students approached me, asking what they can do to protect their work and how to handle similar situations. I’ve gathered 7 things I’ve learned from this experience and I’m sharing them to you now in hopes that they will be helpful and informative in your career and or studies.
1. Know Your Rights
You’ve heard it a million times: that what you create is yours. But to what extent is it in your ownership? Having written conditions on how your artwork will be used is already one thing to consider. Remember that the work and service you put out there will be your portfolio.
If you are a freelance artist or running a creative business, having a solid process you can present to your clients would benefit you (what outputs to expect, when to expect drafts, nature of payment, etc.).
If a company uses your work without your consent or against your contract, there are many ways to handle this situation which we will discuss further. But for now, here are some links to local offices where one can address such issues and know one’s rights:
Department of Trade and Industry,
Buero of Internal Revenue (for licensing and registering establishments/businesses).
Remember This: “You are responsible of your own creations.”
2. Have a Watermark
Yes, yes, I know this one might be a bit difficult to do. It is frustrating to need some sort of text or logo within the your work especially when it disrupts the entire look; but trust me when I say that this is crucial. Learned this the hard way– a story for some another time.
This isn’t only to protect yourself from art theft, but to also, in one way or another, expose yourself as the artist.
Bonus Tip: Try to creatively insert your watermark within your art. Make it part of your design somehow.
3. Understand the messy world of selling Pop Culture Art
Now, this is where things get heavy. I’ll try to create an entire article dedicated to this topic, because there’s a lot to discuss when it comes to this. But first, let me ask: Is fan art stealing? Here’s the thing, big companies such as Marvel or Disney own the licenses to these characters, and they have every right to sue people who make money out of their work. The thing is, why would they?
Instead, most franchises see fan art illustrations as a way to not only promote these beloved stories and characters but to also allow their fans to build a rich and vibrant fan based community dedicated to enhance the popularity of their creations.
However, there are incidences where they take action. One example is when Taylor Swift’s team decided to sue online Etsy sellers— but we’ll get to that some other time.
Here’s the difference between fan art and stealing: If you take an image from the internet, let’s say the Black Panther movie poster, and mass produce it, it is considered stealing. But if you painted a portrait of a character from the franchise, that is fan art.
4. Strategize Your Next Move
Now, let’s say someone does use your art without your consent. First, remember you must know your rights. Second, what can you do?
A. Speak to the person directly and inform them of your concerns. Let’s hope this is all it takes for he or she to respect you as the artist.
B. If this person doesn’t comply with your terms and handles the situation poorly, you can report this person through the provided option of the platform (Most social media platforms have this).
C. You can also turn to the people (via social media etc.), or sue.
Now, personally, I would prefer to make a public statement regarding the matter after speaking directly to them before pursuing. This is beneficial for both involved because not only will you help others become more aware of the situation, but it can benefit the person or company you are going against as well. How and why should you give them that benefit? Because it gives them the opportunity to handle it publicly. And this, is where being professional comes in.
5. Be Professional and expect to be treated professionally
Take the highroad. If you maintain a professional facade, and they don’t? Then surely you have the upper hand here. The opportunity for them to show their best is lost, and given that it is public, people are then more aware of the service this person or company is capable of giving.
No matter how young, small, or new you are in the field, expect to be treated professionally and fairly. Also, never make how young, small, or new you are in the field an excuse to not be professional.
Now, this also goes when speaking to a client. I previously discussed this in my 7 Ways To Make Your Freelance Clients Happy. Set an example to your customers, viewers, and fellow artists. If you own a business and have employees and partners, understand that you represent them, you are responsible of them.
6. Be Careful Where You Place Your Art (Online and Offline)
Be it an online portfolio or in a physical store, be careful and understand that when you willingly handover your art they can and will be represented by the person or the company. Also, understand that associating yourself to a place or a person that will now represent your work can create boundaries and problems throughout your career.
Find out the background of this person or company and ask yourself these questions:
Does this establishment have issues in the past?
How does this person handle his or her employees and partners?
Will this company benefit my career’s portfolio?
For an online portfolio, understand the risk you place when uploading your work online. It is very easy for it to be stolen without you knowing it (this is where watermark can help), but also consider the medium you upload it to.
Instagram and Facebook does not have a specific right for stolen work, it is public. But you can always report a user if he or she uses your art without your consent.
7. Support Other Artists
I realized how truly important it was to recognize that as an artist you are not alone, but you are in fact part of a community. It was wonderful to see artists come forward when the incident mentioned above happened to me. They reached out. They encouraged me, defended me, and even told me that they were there for me because, and I quote,
“We have to look after each other, we’re all part of the same team.”
Support doesn’t only mean in times of trouble, but simply helping them in their careers and guiding them is enough to contribute to the community. Give each other tips, buy each other’s art, promote each other, collaborate, refer them to a job– and in return you have not only built a better environment for artists everywhere, but you have gained wonderful friends to keep and learn from.
We must remember to realize that it doesn’t always have to be a competitive world out there, it could be collaborative. I’ve mentioned this in my other article: “Merchant Life: Things to Know Before Joining Bazaars” and so far? I stand by it.
Make friends, make art, and watch out for the sharks.
I hope this has helped you in one way or another, and if you have any more questions, feel free to contact me on my Facebook page. Or just go right on ahead and tweet me; I would love to hear from you!
If you have any suggestions what else I should write about, feel free as well, and hey, join in on the polls on my Twitter and Instagram! Most of the topics here and on my YouTube channel come from suggestions and poll results. Until then, have a colorful day ahead!