What can you do about Art Theft?
Following on from my posts: 'Art theft and stealing images online' and 'Art theft and further criticism of pod sites', I’m raising awareness of online art theft, while battling against sites who have taken and used artwork from me personally, along with hundreds of other artists, without permission.
I mentioned my plight on the DeviantArt forums - asking how can I/we, as artists, can stop this?
The general opinion was to not upload high quality images on to the net and use watermarking to at least help prevent this. Fair enough advice, and something I'd already started doing anyway. But it was interesting to find many of the replies indicated that they felt the onus was on the artist to minimise the damage beforehand and if the damage had already been done, then tough luck. There was a lack of criticism or interest towards the companies/individuals that steal or the sites which allow them to sell an artist's stolen goods on their platform, or the fact that these platforms (e.g Facebook, Instagram, Aliexpress, Amazon, Ebay) make it difficult to either report cases of copyright infringement or do very little, if anything, to act upon it.
Sure, there are ways for an artist to minimise the chance of their work being stolen and used by third parties, but if that fails, then what? We sit back and allow crooked individuals or companies to take our images to profit from while perpetuating the idea that if it's already on the internet it's free game? And should the artist be seen as the one at fault in such cases when they are ultimately a victim of the crime? You can make your home more secure- lock the doors and install a burglar alarm, but if you are still burgled anyway, there is at least a police force in place whose duty it is to investigate and hopefully apprehend the criminals responsible. Online there should be a similar system or authority in place...
Well, there is. But you've got to pay for it. One forum member pointed me at the DCMA - The Digital Millennium Copyright Act which works though a business, whereby if you pay them $199 they will initiate a take-down request to have your content removed from an offending site. For small scale theft this is obviously too high a price to pay. Especially if you're an independent artist living on a tight budget as it is. Plus what happens when another site or seller pops up and uses your image? Do you pay yet another $199 to get that one taken down too?
It shouldn't be hard to to get offending content taken down- I have a reputation, can prove I created it and have the original Photoshop files or sketches to boot, meanwhile I know for a fact the offending art thief does not have these, and would fail, if asked to produce any kind of written agreement stating permission to use the content in question. And then you just have to look at what else these jokers are selling to put things into context- a jumbled mix of artwork produced in wildly different styles (and arguably of different artistic abilities), obviously created by a wide range of artists with no mention where the artwork was sourced from, poorly edited or Photoshoped on to products. Sometimes still retaining the artist's signature or watermark, which is typically removed if licencing art to third parties. And it's being sold from China through unofficial channels and we all know China doesn't take piracy particularly seriously.
So as it stands, according to some artists, the blame seems to be primarily with the artist themselves. If you're a small independent artist being ripped off online, you often can't do much about it. The DCMA is there if you don't mind forking over $200 for help.
In a ideal world, perhaps there would be some kind of block-chain system whereby the rights to every image, film or piece of music could be traced back to a registered owner. This information would be embedded into the file itself, with a registry of previous owners being attached to each file. Might sound like a crazy idea, and I haven't spent too much time thinking about how logistically possible such a system would be, but surely help with digital piracy of images, music and video?