Students display their recent artwork for the Vernal Art Show, which will be held on April 22, 2021. ((Photo Credit: Anika Schmid/Achona Online))
Students display their recent artwork for the Vernal Art Show, which will be held on April 22, 2021.

(Photo Credit: Anika Schmid/Achona Online)

The Prevalent Issue of Digital Art Theft

April 21, 2021

Recently, Achona has had concerns regarding the protection of our cover photos from theft or unauthorized use. Our solution: a watermark made by Multimedia Editor Chloe Mintz

In the age of digital artwork, it is easier than ever to access art pieces worldwide through social media. Behind every piece, there is an artist who deserves recognition. Unfortunately, many artists are taken advantage of, and their art is sold or used without their permission. 

There are many forms of art theft, such as reposting, tracing, cropping, editing, or falsely claiming work as one’s own. Signatures and watermarks are not foolproof methods since people sometimes erase or crop them. 

Reposting artwork on social media platforms such as Instagram can be harmful by obstructing views and monetary gain away from the original artist. Reposted art usually receives more attention than the original, which can be disheartening to the artists who have spent a significant amount of time and effort. Reposts are only acceptable if the artist has specified that reposts are allowed. Additionally, writing “credit to the artist” in the post’s description is not proper credit. 

“I think it’s crucial to follow ownership rules in the art community, so everyone gets the recognition they earned. Reposts of art should only be used as a matter to help an artist and their art be seen and appreciated. Being a small artist online is incredibly difficult, especially trying to get your pieces out and gain a following or even traction to your page. It would be disheartening to see something you spent hours on and worked on relentlessly being stolen and claimed from someone else. Repost should only be done with the consent of the creator and with proper credit,” said Caitlin Ham (‘24)

Art can be found on Redbubble, CafePress, Etsy, Amazon, and other stores without permission from the original artist. Resellers make money by selling this art on prints, stickers, blankets, shirts, and more. For artists to remove stolen art on Redbubble, they must fill out a Notice and Takedown Report form. Twitter bots search for keywords in comments about wanting the art on a shirt and then place the art on a website to sell.

“If someone stole my artwork, I would be extremely upset and hurt. I spend many hours on my work in order to make it as personalized as possible. It is so important to appreciate and respect everyone’s art. Artists spend so much time making their pieces amazing, so stealing their work and not giving them the credit they deserve is a horrible act of disrespect,” said Sadie Patrick (‘24).

Artists can copyright their work through the U.S. Library of Congress Copyright Office, but there is a standard filing fee of $55. Individual claims must be filed for each piece of art they want copyrighted. The copyright law states that “Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.”

President Bill Clinton signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998. A DMCA takedown is when a copyright owner requests for their work to be removed from a website. The act removes infringing copyright content from websites that post content without permission. Sending a takedown notice is free if the owner makes the request directly. If they use an online toolkit to assist them, it can cost $10. Fees will also depend on if they use a legal service to send the notice. It often takes three days to resolve the request but may take months or years to resolve if they are in court. A DMCA strike occurs when a service provider will set a number of strikes before removing an individual’s internet services. The DMCA shields liability from Instagram and CafePress due to copyright initiated by their users, preventing these companies from being sued. 

Violation of copyright with financial gains is punishable for five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. If the violation is found not to have financial gains, the law still allows for a maximum of three years in prison. Copyrighted images often have watermarks, and the EXIF data may reveal the owner’s identity. 

Artists can protect their work by uploading lower-resolution images, preventing right-click downloads on their websites, and adding watermarks. 

Reverse image search websites can assist in finding the original art piece. If you find stolen art, contact the original artist and inform them of the situation. Reporting these accounts and stores can result in their closure. However, this is not a permanent method to stop resellers since they could make another store, and the artist is still not given compensation that the reseller made off of their work. Artists include information in their descriptions and bios on their rules for reposts or using the art as profile pictures. When in doubt, ask permission from the artist to repost. To support artists, buy artwork directly from an artist’s shop or order commissioned artwork.

Sofia Girgenti (‘23) said, “I think it is important [for people to respect artists’ rules] because the art that people produce is deeply personal and is the figment of their passions and efforts; if you steal that from them, you are not just stealing a painting or drawing. You are taking away a part of themselves that they chose to express to the world.”

Achona has a new section called Mosaic for students to submit their artwork to be featured on our website. The easiest way to recognize the individual talent of artists is to view their work.

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