Recently, some of my artworks were stolen and used in t-shirt design competitions. Thanks to everyone helping out, the problem was quickly resolved. In case it happens to you, I've written a tutorial based on my own experience: What To Do If Your Art Is Stolen. I used a Creative Commons license for the blog entry so that anyone can use it for educational purposes. Here are some excerpts.
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Regarding copyright law:
- Copyright literally means "the right to make copies (of a creative work)", but actually includes many other rights such as the right to be credited as the creator, the right to make money from the work, and the right to create derivative works.
- You automatically own all the copyrights to your work from the moment of creation. Even if you don't place a copyright notice on it. You own these copyrights until you sell, lease, or give them away to the public, person, or institution of your choosing.
- Copyright law does not protect any idea, only the execution of an idea. So you can't copyright the style or subject of a drawing, only the drawing itself.
- Some unauthorized uses may be considered "fair use", meaning it was used for personal use, education, satire, or critique, and it wasn't used for profit or in a way that would harm the commercial value of the original work.
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On assessing the damage done:
- Which copyrights were violated?
Use your knowledge of applicable copyright laws.
- How many times?
Quantify the evidence you've gathered.
- Who is responsible?
Someone famous or unknown? A big or small company? If this is someone very famous, or if it's a very big company, they have greater responsibility. Here's another article on design theft with a practical discussion of this.
- Did it seem intentional and malicious?
If someone did it more than once, it probably wasn't accidental.
- Was it done for profit, and did you receive credit?
You should probably be most concerned about people making money off of your work, or claiming your work as their own.
- Can any instances be considered "fair use"?
Remain objective enough to ensure that "stolen" is right word to describe your situation.
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My statement on sharing my art online:
I am not afraid to post my artwork on the Internet, and I am not afraid of technologies which allow people to easily remix, copy, and share creative works. These technologies helped me build my art reputation online, and it was my reputation that helped me prove I am the original creator of the stolen artworks.
I am happy to share my images online without much of a watermark, in spite of (rare and easily remedied) incidents such as this, because I am happy to let people enjoy a good view of my artwork. I am happy to share my music online, with free downloads, because I am happy that people enjoy my singing and songwriting. This will not change. I refuse to let one person's actions steal the joy I find in making and sharing my creative work.