SOS! Someone Ripped Off My Art

someone has stolen your art

SOS! Posts: Quick tips for getting through creative crisis.

Usually it happens through a friend, or a fan. They send you a screen capture of a piece of your art, but it wasn’t a use you knew about or gave permission for. Maybe it was just an Instagram post, maybe it was a blog post, or maybe it was something more serious — your art being used as some business’s logo or your art even appearing in the background of a movie or TV show. Someone has stolen your art. You’re immediately infuriated. How dare someone steal your artwork?! At this point, if it was a very public usage, you might be getting more and more notifications and tags on social media about it. What do you do next?

  • Assume Ignorance. As unlikely as it may seem that anyone doesn’t understand that using someone’s art without permission is wrong, most non-artists still don’t understand that they can’t just pull something off Google Images and use it. Your first message should assume this is the case, because if it is a case of ignorance, then a friendly educational message is going to get what you want quickly, and who knows, may lead to further opportunities. Start with the place the image appears and move outward. If it was a social media post, then comment under the post saying “This is my artwork and you have not requested permission to use it. Please contact me asap.” Then send them a direct message on that platform. If you can find an email address, send it there as well. Then prepare to wait a few hours to make sure they saw it. A bonus to platforms like Instagram direct messages is that you can see when the account owner has viewed your message. Obviously this discounts sites that are stealing your art to sell merch for profit. In that case skip straight to the Cease and Desist letter.
  • Know What You Want. Do you want them to credit you on the post? Do you want them to make a new post crediting you? Do you want them to take down the image? Do you want payment? You should know what response you’re hoping to receive and put it in the initial message. Give the user clear instructions and you’re more likely to get that desired response quicker.
  • What If They Push Back? If the user pushes back (or just ignores you when it’s obvious from their posting frequency or their “message read” notification that they’re ignoring you) then send a Cease and Desist letter. There are many templates online, here’s a nice simple one specifically for artists. Remember, an artist automatically owns the copyright to any artwork they produce. You have even greater rights if you have registered your copyright. At this point you should also start a Take-Down to get the platform to remove the image.
  • Should you Name and Shame? It depends. If the user or site is a place you want to warn other artists about, then definitely post about it on your social media. But don’t jump to the outrage stage first when it could possibly have been chalked up to ignorance. Regardless of whether you’re burning a bridge to a potential client or not, flying off the handle on your social media all the time can paint you in a bad light even if you were in the right. You want to always seem like the bigger person, and use it as a teaching moment. Remember, if someone is determined to rip off your art then they’re not going to care about you posting it on social media.
  • Last Resorts. If the Cease and Desist letter has gone unanswered and you want to pursue the matter, then there are legal resources for artists that won’t break the bank. Most states have a Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts group that can point you to resources available at low or no cost. You can also google law firms that specialize in “Creative Law” and have a track record of going after companies that rip off artists’ works.

If you want to learn more about money & legal issues for artists then download our “Getting Your Paid” onesheet pdf and check out our upcoming Art Business Bootcamps.

2 thoughts on “SOS! Someone Ripped Off My Art

  1. Going to pass on what a lawyer friend told me- If the piece is popular, register it! While every art is technically copyrighted the moment you make it, many companies that willfully steal art will ignore DMCAs that don’t have registrations given. This is because it is very hard to defend unregistered pieces in court. It does suck because it means $35 and 6 months wait, but at least if you live on the West Coast your work can be defended in court as soon as you file the paperwork (instead of waiting the whole 6 months).

    • Absolutely! It’s well worth the effort and minimal cost to register your works at least once a year. It’s good to make it part of the routine when you either archive your files or file your taxes so you don’t forget.

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