What can you do if your Art is Stolen Online?


In an internet age where the focus on anything is how it can be viral, protecting your photography, illustrations and art can be tricky. Unless you’re willing to not put your photos online at all, there is nothing that can stop people taking your images and using them as they wish, so what can you do about it?

You’ll first need to know if people are using your images. To find that out, check out How To Keep Your Art Safe Online

This is has always been a problem, but, it has been dragged back into the limelight by The New Yorkers’ post, Taking Pictures: A Way For Photographers To Protect Their Work, in which Betsy Morais writes about Yunghi Kim’s 1999 Kosovo images going viral, and being used all over the web. If you haven’t read that yet, you should. In another tale, Andrew Paul Leonard had his iconic electron microscope images of microbes and microglia unlawfully used by Stemtech Health Services. The good news for the artist is that Leonard won $1.6 million in damages, but you can’t help but think that a small, unknown artist can’t get access to the funds required for a lawsuit like that.

Here is the civil action case between Andrew Paul Leonard and Stemtech.

One thing to consider when you’re a smaller artist is whether or not the use of your images by a third party is really a bad thing. If they have failed to credit you, then it’s a definite yes. If they have, then what kind of site or social page is using them? As a small artist, a chance for someone to promote your credited image could gain you more exposure, driving people to your website or portfolio. If that website or portfolio lets people buy your work, you’re onto a winner. They could, at least, refer people to your own social pages, making sure that more people will see when your next exhibition or online event is taking place.

If they are using your images without proper credits to yourself, here’s what you can do.

The Casual Approach

This method is easy, and will often work out well for everyone, when looking at smaller artists, and the blogs using their images. Email them. It’s that easy! Keep it friendly if you want them to do the same when promoting your work . ‘I noticed you used one of my images. Thank you for promoting my work. Could you please credit the work with my name and a link to my site/portfolio…’ etc. works quite well most of the time. You could even offer to give them a unique quote about your work, if they’re really interested.


NB, this only works when people have used you images in social posts or blog posts. If they have used your work for something like the banner image at the top of the website, that isn’t considered within ‘fair use’ terms, and you should consider asking them to stop using it.

Read more on Copyright Fair Use.

The Legal Approach

This is where things get serious and probably quite costly too.


Most people will recognise DMCA, even if they’re unsure where from. DMCA are global specialist in copyright and ‘takedowns’ of plagiarised work, including art. The process can be complicated, so instead of paraphrasing and, possibly, giving incorrect information, I’ll refer you to DMCA.

Do you have experience with sites and blogs using your material without your permission?

We’d love to hear your story! Let us know, either in the comments or via Twitter, and we may feature your site in this post.


About Author

Brett Janes is an MA Writing student at LJMU, with close ties to the art community in the NW.

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