Social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook are an excellent way to share your creations online with others around the world. If you read my previous blog post 10 Secrets for Promoting Your Art on Instagram you know how easy it is to connect with people on social media. It is very important to have a strong and engaging social media presence in order to succeed as a small business, especially within the arts industry. As every software update happens, it is getting easier and easier to share and connect with our followers and potential followers.
The main concern most artist have about sharing their artwork online is that someone may steal or copy their artworks and claim them as their own. Theft happens more often than not. Sometimes it's the harmless act of not correctly crediting an artist. However, sometimes it can be more malicious by stealing someone's work and taking all the credit. I have personally had this happen to me before and it wasn't a pleasant experience. I had to report the person for copyright and I was harassed online by multiple accounts. Now, that's a worse case scenario, nevertheless I had already implemented some of the tips below and it wasn't a hard issue to clear up.
Tip 1: Watermarks or Sign Your Artwork
As someone who does both digital and analog collage I make sure to sign both types of artworks. It's important to have your signature present in order for people to recognise who completed the artwork. It is one of the best tools you have to protect your artwork across social media.
You can place a watermark over the top of the image or in an area that would be harder to edit out on applications like Photoshop. A signature can be placed within the corners of the artwork or again, somewhere that would be hard to edit out. The main difference is that a signature isn't over the top of the artwork and is smaller in scale, however both protect you legally from copyright infringement.
I prefer using a signature on social media and having watermarks over works when sending a proof to a client.
Tip 2: Works in Progress (WIP)
This is one of the most underrated pieces of content that you can share with your followers. WIP's show you working on creations that are yet to be finalised or released. It can be any form of artistic style and method, just take an action shot or a layout of what is yet to come. WIP's can be videos or photos, the way of capturing it doesn't matter - so make it unique to you!
If you're in the WIP itself, you don't need to sign the content, it's you and that should hold up legally - if you need to take that route.
Tip 3: Be Nice To Followers
Just like in my previous blog post that I mentioned above, being nice to your followers gives you lots of benefits. This probably seems like an obvious one but is essential to protecting your online presence. Followers will always tag you in copycat artworks and will tag you when you aren't tagged. Don't be fake, definitely be you!
Tip 4: Register Your Work
In terms of legality, this depends on your current residential country. Copyright laws vary from state to state and can have huge grey areas depending on the origin of the case. Registering your artwork protects you from small and large businesses stealing your work or likeness of it for their own financial gain or use. Generally, when you sign and date an artwork, wether physically or digitally, you are automatically protected by copyright. If you are physically creating, I recommend registering your artworks for extra proof.
If you are an artist based in the US, you can register your artwork with the Copyright Office of the US Library of Congress.
If you are an Australian artist, we have no registry where you can get proof for copyright. Our copyright protection does not depend on publication, a copyright notice or any other procedure. Copyright protection is free and automatic from the moment your work is on paper or a computer. Make sure to take photographs with dates in the corner. Just for extra measure get them printed (keep the receipt) and archive them into a photo book. There is a fantastic article by Arts Law regarding protecting your work on the internet, you can read that here.
The same goes for artists within the UK. There is no registry for copyright like America. You are automatically protected from plagiarism! Follow the steps above that I offered for Australian artists, or you can read more here regarding laws within the UK.
If your country of origin was not listed on this blog post, I suggest you google your country and the copyright laws/protections you may be eligible for.
Tip 5: Keep Digital Records of your Work
This is pretty similar to the copyright section that I have discussed above. Keeping a record of your works in a digital format will prevent any confusion regarding the creation of your work.
You can keep a digital record of your work archived and organised under the month it was created. Please make sure to back up these files as you may need to use them in the future if you pursue legal action.
Tip 6: Add a Copyright MessageThis is a great way to let other people know that your work is copyrighted. Having a clear identification of who made the work, when it was made and the © symbol is a proactive way to inform the general public.
Tip 7: Be Assertive & Check
This one is really just about crossing your t's and dotting your i's. You need to take accountability and do some research every once and awhile. It can be as easy as reverse searching your creations online and checking hashtags. I always follow up on accounts that have stolen my work before and I prepare myself for having to report something or messaging them.
If you have to report someone for taking credit for your work, don't feel upset or angry. It's just them being a nuisance and not respecting an artist. You can report copyright infringements on social media. If you have found a company has stolen your work you can get legal advice from a pro-bono law firm and also government agencies.