For today’s artists, the internet has become a vital tool to collaborate with other artists (no matter the physical distance), distribute and showcase their work, find partners and supporters, and get inspired with new ideas. The downside of online art platforms is the difficulty to keep your art protected from theft. Alright, artworks get stolen from museums as well, but the Louvre has a completely different budget to invest into the protection of Mona Lisa than you have to safeguard your copyrighted work online.
Even if you, for example, use Instagram to display your work, and Instagram has no direct download option for images, there are third-party applications that allow people to scrap Instagram pictures. Same applies to music and videos: if you keep your music on SoundCloud or Bandcamp, and display your videos on Youtube or Vimeo, with direct download mechanisms disabled, there will always be a third-party application to allows others download your stuff for free and reuse it.
So here are a few tips on how to protect your digital artwork.
- Watermarks. Seriously, watermark those photos, illustrations, vector graphics. Posting a watermarked image on Instagram, Flickr, or wherever else you store your collection, will make digital art thieves think twice before robbing you: watermark removal is a tedious process that is probably not worth their time. Digital watermarks can even be added to your music files. Digital fingerprinting can also be added to videos in order to keep track of where the video originates and where it is reposted.
- VPN will help your secure the artwork on your device. According to https://vpnpro.com, when you connect to public networks using your computer, tablet or phone, these devices become vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks, whereby an individual also connected to the public network may intercept the data you send from your device to the connection point. If this data is not encrypted, you may risk exposing your passwords and login credentials to hackers, including passwords to platforms or cloud storage where you keep your artwork. Besides, during the man-in-the-middle attack, the hacker can access all the information on your device. VPN, by encrypting all your outgoing traffic and creating a safe tunnel between your device and the connection point, will eliminate the risks of someone intercepting your data or getting in your computer.
- Disable right-click on your copyrighted images. Most modern platforms that display at work have an automatic setting to disable right click and the ‘download’ion on all your copyrighted images.
- Apply all possible measures to ‘register’ the artwork under your name. Copyright signs, watermarks and digital fingerprints, your name and contact details under the file – this will ensure that you can prove your ownership of the artwork if you ever bring the copyright infringement issue to the authorities. Of course, some countries have better copyright laws than others and provide a better remedy to artists affected by copyright infringement.
- Upload only low-res images online (72 dpi and less), and only low-res audio files (49 kbps). Compress the videos (151 kbps and below) before uploading them online. On many platforms, this is a default or the only available setting. Your copyrighted image will look nice even in low-res, and if the viewers like what they see, there is always your email address for purchase inquiries. Always provide your confirmation when displaying your artwork – in case people want to contact you.
- Don’t forget to add that pretty © sign next to your name under the image/video, or perhaps in the corner of the artwork. Signing your artwork is the most obvious way to establish your ownership of it.
- Register your artwork with your national copyright authority (in the US, it is the Copyright Office of the U.S. Library of Congress). In case your start legal proceedings for copyright infringement, this will add more weight to your claims and automatically prove the work belongs to you.
- Convert your images into a flash slideshow when you post them on your own website. Instead of displaying your gallery as singular images, post them as a flash gallery – this way, it all be impossible for random strangers to download them without permission. Be aware of social media terms and conditions in regards to copyright. Before sharing your artwork on Instagram or Facebook, read the terms and conditions for multimedia copyright applicable on these platforms. For most social media platforms, copyright remains a legal gray area – often social media platforms may claim that they automatically own any multimedia files uploaded by the users: photos, music, videos. They can claim the rights to use your art not just as promotional material for the platforms itself, but to also sell or lease those images to third parties.
Your artwork needs to be protected at all levels of its digital existence – from when it is stored on your device and when it is uploaded in the cloud, as well as, it is displayed and distributed online.