Broken Pencil - - Features -

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, 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 (, 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.

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