Think your art has been stolen? Here’s what to do next (and how to keep it yours in the first place)
*Think carefully about sharing your work online in the first place
Web comic artist Dami Lee has seen a few of her comics turned into memes, “which is maybe a little bit flattering but mostly scary,” she says. “You have no control over how your art can be altered once you release it, and I think coming to terms with that is an important part of making things for the internet.” Rob Mcinnis agrees. “Never fool yourself into thinking you have any protection online. That notion is a fantasy,” he says. “When you put your work online, it is out of your hands.” Often the potential rewards of sharing your work online will outweigh the risks — but think seriously about what you hope to get out of sharing your work online, and whether it’s worth the risk.
*Keep track of your work
The internet is such a vast place, it can be hard to keep track of where your art might be popping up, but a simple reverse image search every couple of weeks, like Ryan North, can go a long way to make sure no one is using your art without your permission. Google keeps making reverse image searches easier — in Chrome, if you right click on any image on any site, you’re given the option to “search Google for this image.” And if you go to images.google.com, you can simply drag and drop the image you’re searching for right into the search bar. “Attempt to stay on top of it being shared and ask for credit when you can,” says Mcinnis. “Realize that although most people are good people, you will be taken advantage of.”
“There’s a difference between the rights you own and enforcing those rights,” explains Pina D’agostino, who is the director of IP Osgoode, the Intellectual Property Law and Technology Program at Osgoode Hall Law School. Simply owning the copyright to your work doesn’t protect you if you don’t
enforce it. So if you see your work being used without your permission, don’t just gripe about it on social media — contact the person or company who is infringing on your work. That doesn’t mean you have to be combative or hostile right off the bat. “If it’s infringement, at that point the first thing you would do is just get in touch with them and basically say ‘you infringed’ and to take down whatever content they put up,” says D’agostino. “Deal with it amicably, that’s the thing.” But if asking nicely doesn’t work, you can find templates for standard cease-and-desist letters are all over the internet — and if you’re not comfortable doing that on your own...
*Call a lawyer
Hiring a lawyer can be expensive, often prohibitively so for an independent artist. But there are some more affordable resources out there for legal issues pertaining to artists. In Ontario, Artists’ Legal Advice Services is a legal clinic operated by volunteer lawyers and law students from the University of Toronto, and similar organizations exist across the country. In British Columbia, try Artists Legal Outreach, and in Montreal, the Montreal Artists Legal Clinic is run by CJAM (cjam.info/en), who also publish an interesting blog following copyright issues of interest to artists. These organizations offer free consultations, and can help you figure out (a) whether your copyright is being violated and (b) what to do about it.