- StealingArt theft can be stealing.
- TakingNot all copying is wrong.
- CopyrightYou’ve got the power!
- PermissionGet or give a license: Even “free” stock requires a license.
- Fan ArtFor love or for money.
- Moral RightsProtecting your integrity and the integrity of your art.
- ProtectionIt starts with what you do for yourself.
- Resolving DisputesBe open to hear each other out.
Update, July 2021: DeviantArt's commitment to providing an open conversation about art theft and protecting artists' rights has continued with the introduction of DeviantArt Protect, image-recognition software designed to safeguard your art in ways that were not possible when this journal was originally posted in 2015. Learn more »
The DeviantArt community has always been deeply concerned about art theft.
We are committed to providing a completely open conversation on this topic. With your active and constructive participation we can become a leading voice on how we adapt to the challenges of being artists on the Web.
This Journal frames the continuing conversation and concern about art theft in general on the Internet and on DeviantArt. Each section links to a more specific and expanded treatment of the topic with additional links to useful materials and readings. Your comments to this Journal will be reviewed by experts and comment threads of general interest will be linked into the expanded topic sections.
Something to keep in mind at the outset: we are all guided by a code of decency, honesty and the expression of mutual respect. So, try to be tolerant and understanding even when reviewing these materials. Ethical behavior is a reward and a duty larger than laws and rules. Sometimes people interpret right and wrong differently even when both people have the exact same good and ethical intentions. Keep in mind that everything anyone does will be right if it’s also decent and honest even if some rule of law or contract was technically broken.
Art theft is stealing a painting from a wall.
Sometimes the term “theft” is accurate and it always attracts attention.
The word “theft” can be used casually, sometimes to describe copying any part of an artwork. The term “theft” also defines actual criminal conduct and is associated to a harsh moral judgment that may go too far.
- Stealing an object is theft. Using artwork without permission is frequently called “theft” or “stealing.” But it might, instead, be copyright infringement or the violation of a contract that just feels like a theft.
Not all copying is wrong.
Everything comes from somewhere. To some degree all people copy what other people do starting with talking, walking and eating. And, the same is true in writing, art and music. There is a limit to the originality of any artwork in any medium.
Basic standards of decent, respectful and honest behavior — and the law — will prevent copying when it will harm another person economically.
Copying can be permitted because it’s an accepted practice or sometimes because the laws directly permit it. As an example, there is a rich history of using tracing for learning and some artists want their work to be copied.
Protection from copying is also time-based. Copying very old things is a way to preserve them and keep them relevant in the culture.
Entire fields of recognized fine art such as collage and “appropriation art” (like Andy Warhol) depend on copying and the law is favoring this development.
Copyright laws are powerful tools that protect art and artists and can prevent the misuse of artworks.
Copyright gives the author the exclusive right to copy, distribute, alter or base other works on his or her original work. These rights are very broad.
Those who violate the rights are called “infringers” and can be made to pay money damages or can be made to stop their behavior.
Copyright laws also create a balance between the needs of artists to protect their work and the needs of the culture to express itself by protecting people who want to use copyrighted works for specific reasons such as criticism, comment, political speech and sometimes it protects the actual use of artwork in another artwork.
Copyright only protects the way an idea is expressed. It does not protect the idea. Anyone can use an idea, even if it’s original. Patent law or trade secret law could protect an idea, but these laws have strict requirements. They mostly apply to making useful things, and almost all artworks don’t qualify.
Every country has similar copyright laws but with many technical variations and differences. It can get complicated.
Stock, even free stock, comes with a license. The license is a real contract.
On or off DeviantArt, the word “stock” means the artist or company intends other people to use a photograph or another form of artwork — and it always means that there are conditions to using it.
The conditions for stock use could be very open, such as “use it anyway you want, at anytime, for anything” or they could be very restricted specifying size, uses, changes, payment, credit or all of these.
Every time someone gives you permission to use a work it’s a contract and you need to be as clear as possible about how far that permission goes.
If you use stock and violate a condition, then you are breaking a contract and maybe also engaging in copyright infringement.
Fan art as love is different than fan art for sale.
Fan art usually takes characters, situations and sometimes directly copies artwork from all kinds of media including films, television, comics, books, or games. Typically, the original version is protected by copyright laws.
Most major media companies that control the properties most fan art celebrate are OK with fan art made not for profit. But, the companies will rarely admit this because it would compromise their need to protect the properties when they have to. This “fan art understanding” is entirely within the control of the owner of the property and they can withdraw it when they like.
When fan art is sold in multiple copies it tends to become a problem for these companies, which is a problem for artists as well. It can be a violation of both copyright law and trademark law.
Fan artists recognize that there are also ethical issues in reproducing and selling fan art. It is considered different than selling an original drawing or painting that is fan based.
It is a good practice to label fan art if there is any risk that someone would confuse it as official, licensed art. It is never OK to label fan art as coming from the original owner or creator.
“Moral Rights” protect artists from others harming their artwork and protects artists from people taking false credit.
The right of “integrity” protects against harmful damage to artworks and permits the artist to step in to protect his or her art even after a work has been sold or licensed.
The right of “attribution” defends artists against people taking false credit for the artist’s work and against people who claim something was made by a particular artist when it wasn’t.
Not every country has these laws or they have very weak ones. The U.S. has very weak protections but they do apply to artworks published in limited editions of 200 copies or less. France and Germany have the strongest protections.
There should be an obvious ethical obligation not to claim false credit and not to damage another person’s artwork.
Ways to protect your art on the Internet.
Putting your own work on the Internet is not giving it away. A blog or a website is a display or a distribution of your work. But, it isn’t a statement that other people can use the work or copy it.
A website or blog’s terms and conditions are a contract that defines what the site and what people who visit the site can do with your work — read it and decide.
Automatic copyright protection is available to all new works of art and in most countries you do not have to place a copyright notice on the artwork.
Placing lower resolution files for display on the Internet is an excellent technique to prevent many commercial uses of artwork.
Sites like DeviantArt offer watermark options on submission.
Post with a clear notice saying what people can or cannot do with your work to remind your viewers that they have only limited rights.
Resolve disputes with a conversation, if you can.
Misunderstandings about using artworks and taking credit for things that may go too far are very common. Use the messaging system or comments to give people the chance to do the right thing after they find out what the right thing should be.
If messaging and conversation doesn’t work, consider using a website reporting function, contacting the administrators, filing a formal copyright takedown request or contacting a lawyer for assistance.