Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Foiling Art Pirates

I recently participated in a discussion about piracy on the internet of one's visual artwork. It is somewhat of a sticky wicket because different interests are in competition here. On one hand, showing one's work to a wider audience is desired. I have gotten commissions from people who saw my work on the internet. My website and blog are a fine way to show off what I do. On the other hand, copying artwork off the net is widespread, sometimes for benign purposes and sometimes as an infringement of copyright. I once saw one of my designs on a tee shirt! While sharing is good, stealing is bad.

I recently installed a spy program called "Tracer" on my internet sites. It tells me what and when was copied. It doesn't tell me who. In the past 30 days, for example, this blog has had 799 page views (not necessarily that many individual viewers.) Two images have been copied and 8174 words were copied. Two links to my work were created. During the same time, my website has had 377 views with no words lifted but 20 images were copied.

I am assuming that those who copy my images are doing so for their own interest or to link me to their sites and are not trying to print out my work to sell, frame, or use commercially. Nevertheless, I am now in the process of updating my images with watermarks, just to make sure.

Another way to protect oneself is to upload images in low resolution and size. This also is a mixed bag. Higher resolution makes nicer viewing but easier to enlarge. I haven't come to a decision yet but right now I am uploading images with about 200dpi and 600 pixels on the long side. Any suggestions?


  1. No suggestions but I hear you on the quandary. I'd not heard of Tracer before. Sounds interesting.

    Are you a member of VAST Team on Etsy? Every few days diligent members keep finding art-mills selling copies as original there. It never ceases to amaze me

  2. Yes, I am a member of VAST, although I haven't posted in a while. A friend of mine in the archival business tells me that pirates from China have whole enterprises stealing artwork just like stealing movies. I guess we will just have to try to make it hard for them and hope for the best.

  3. When you say copied do you mean downloaded? I have a free stat counter which tells me which images have been downloaded. At first I was alarmed but then realized that this is a count of people who have clicked on an image in order to see it better. Sometimes people download an image and keep it on their computer just to look at and as inspiration. I think you should only be alarmed if people are actually distributing copies of your work for sale.

    When I did a lot of licensing in the USA I used to register my work with the Library of Congress, this gives some protection against piracy.

    How do you do the watermark thing?

    I notice that you don't have a blog list, I have your site on my blog list, this may be registering as a copy or link. If you don't want me to link to your site please let me know and I will remove you.

  4. Thanks for your comments. I am not terribly paranoid about stealing, just cautious. I am honored for you to link me to your sites and I don't mind people copying my images for their own inspiration.

    There are several ways to do watermarks by using Photoshop. I use the easiest method: Simply place text (usually ©EMERLYE ARTS) over a main area of the painting, not a blank space. Then fade the words to 50% opacity or less. This makes them just visible enough to be noticed but not to detract from the artwork. The boldness and size of the font used is a personal choice. Some people want it barely visible, others want it easily seen.

    There are other computer programs which will create watermarks imbedded in the image itself.