I have to admit, I didn't really think I'd be totally immune to having my art stolen but it's one of those things you feel happen "to other people". Well, the unfortunate thing is that we're all "someone else" to someone else.
I'd like to not go into too many details but recently I was contacted by a company that was interested in hiring me to do designs for them. I was excited as I've had a great experiences working with people who contact me via the web so I was initially very enthusiastic about the prospect. I was curious what types of designs they already use, seeing that I wanted to be sure my style would fit. Boy was I right, in a bad way! Maybe the third of fourth product that popped up had my design plastered right front and center on their product. A design I have never licensed or sold the rights to.
At first I was shocked. It was extremely ironic that I would never have found out that my work was stolen if that said company never contacted me in the first place.
I did let the company know about the stolen work and their response was that they had got it from "some guy" off a design forum. They were "looking into it" but had no way to contact him right now. Long story short, I am not working with that company. I didn't really appreciate that 1) they never provided an apology that they used my artwork and 2) they went straight to what their submission process was for the designers they worked with clearly stating how limited their budget was, as if they hadn't already gotten "free" work out of me.
Personally, on this situation, I decided not to pursue anything further. I have been given the strong feeling that this manufacturer is in China and that if I were to get involved it would be really a long torrid affair that I have not time or money to devote to.
Although this really disappointed me, I am going to use this as a learning opportunity for myself and hopefully an experience that I can share that others can benefit from. Here are some of my quick tips that won't necessarily prevent art theft but it will make it more clear that your art was stolen:
Register your artwork to be copyrighted (links below for more info).
Always put your info on each image you post (watermarked logo, website address and copyright notice).
Only post lo-resolution and smaller images (makes it harder, but not impossible, to reproduce on products).
Post only what you are comfortable with sharing with the general public. Sometimes you want to post everything so all eyes can see what you do but believe me, they'll recognize you talent just fine from a handful of images as they would from a full catalog.
Be aware of the sites and social media channels you post to. Be more strategic on posting to places where you will get the best exposure to the RIGHT PEOPLE. If you want to attract art directors and possible new clients, maybe it's best not to post your finest work to Facebook or just pinning straight to Pinterest. Maybe consider sending out a targeted monthly newsletter with new work to people you know and who you want viewing your work.
So, what can you do to help prevent art theft?
Here are some helpful links for more info on protecting your work:
Copyright Basics - Lauren Lowen's blog post is a really good start to understanding copyrights and how you can take steps to copyright your work.
Copyright Basics - Here is another article by Copyright Kids on copyrights
How to Google to See if Your Artwork Has Been Stolen - via ArtProMotivate
What to do when your art is stolen:
Tuesday Bassen on Her Artwork Being Copied by Zara -Tuesday Bassen recently had a bunch of her designs stolen from a big name company. Read her story here.
Was Your Design Stolen? Follow these 6 Steps - Great step by step article by Co.Design
What To Do When You Discover Your Art Has Been Stolen and Posted on the Internet - via The Business of Art Licensing
Think that you've discovered that another artitst's work was stolen and want to help?
Be sure to contact that artist first (don't go attacking the company because the work may be legitimately used). Send a friendly email letting them know you may have round their work was used without permission, and provide a link to the product or instance if possible. This will help the artist determine if their work was used illegally and will help them determine how to pursue it on their terms.
Again, I hope none of you ever experience having your artwork stolen, but it's not the end of the world! You are creative and talented and can always create something new!