This is an essay I wrote to discuss art theft online, I had a limit in word count and the original audience was someone who had little to no knowledge of art theft or the art community at all. Please keep that in mind. All in all I’m proud of what I got in my limited time.
Many innocent people are victimized on the internet every day. In the art community specifically, the rise in electronic communication has had an incredible impact on how much art theft is committed from simple infringement of intellectual properties to massive amounts of money being stolen from both creators and commissioners of art.
Art theft comes in many forms and varying levels of social and legal trouble that comes with the territory. By the legal definition, most art created and posted online is protected by copyright (Bamberger “Copyright”). Due to how easy it is to save images from an online source, it has become incredibly easy to just upload the image to a knockoff Redbubble and sell merchandise with stolen art and imagery.( Bailey “Art Theft”) Some of these can be classified as simple non-credited or unknown theft of the image, these are often committed by younger internet users that are still learning the basics of how things work and the rules of engagement online (Ayres “The Myths”). Others are more serious such as taking and selling away stolen designs or just straight forward theft of money in a scam. There are a few other times when money is involved in another form (Bailey “Art Theft). These times are when either an artist takes money and never draws the commission, or when the commissioner never pays for the art they ordered. When an artist is scammed like this they often must resort to emergency commissions at cheaper prices to pay their bills. The final part of direct art theft is the theft of the image itself without any transaction of money.
Art theft isn’t just stealing single pieces of work for profit, because of how social media works many people have gone to stealing intellectual properties of characters artist use to represent themselves and the characters of small time people simple due to their designs. There have been a couple of situations where legal action was necessary to resolve the matter, but typically the issue is taken care of by talking it out until the thief backs down or is taken down by a large mass of internet support for the victim (Ayres “The Myths”). These designs and characters typically have a ton of heart and time put into creating them and by taking they it is an insult to the creator while also an insult to everyone else who made their own character. This might seem like a simple issue that could be misunderstood as a form of respect, but the current way the internet works with promoting popular creators on social media means that those who simply repost images onto their own blog without crediting the artist or even getting permission can get hundreds to thousands of dollars on paid promotion in between stolen posts. Many ad companies only care about views, not the moral issue of stealing another’s work to further their own gain. These are aided by the anonymity the internet gives its users. If you never wanted to reveal your identity you won’t have to. The rise in electronic communication paired with the desire to be accepted leads many to lie about who they are or to steal pleasant looking designs to be accepted into groups and make friends. These people are often taken down after being discovered, but that does little to the overall problem of people taking the images and ideas in the first place as thieves can easily make new accounts once blocked or banned from certain cites or people’s social media. The theft goes as far as people commissioning art for the stolen character designs, which to an outsider might seems innocent or kind but without expressed permission to do so the commissioner could just simply commission a type of at that is unwanted for the character or wasn’t meant for the character at all. Because it’s easy it is to lie about who you are to many people online, quite a few perverted thieves have gone as far as to commission naive or young artists into drawing illicit artwork of typically safe for work characters.
While a few people have these problems, there are plenty of people who know that the internet has made it easier to find and take down art thieves as a group. Wouldn’t that mean that the internet is actually making it more difficult to steal art? If so many people are capable of taking down art thieves to the point that it’s got multiple commonly used tags and threads on numerous websites where art thieves and scammers are reported and recorded to prevent multiple offences. There’s a problem with this logic. Going off the fact that it is more commonly reported nowadays does not mean that art theft isn’t actually aided by the internet. It is still far easier to save an image file than to pick up a lager painting and carry it out of a store. It can be equated to the difference in how large the black market for technology like iPhones despite the more security put in each device every update.
To combat the large amount of art theft, artists online have added numerous ways to combat it. Many artists add watermarks in obscure areas alongside signatures onto the artwork itself. Besides this, many artists have now altered final pieces so that only the commissioner and themselves have the original image. Beyond that to the basics, commissioners have now gone to demanding a sketch of what they’re buying before laying down any money. To counter this and prevent problems artists now demand payment upfront, or half up front for more costly commissions. Neither side can find a happy medium with everyone able to be secure in their side of the transaction.
This has mostly talked about digital and traditional artwork where commissions are dealt through online chat and never do either side meet face to face. This anonymity the internet gives both sides can give false feelings of recklessness and cause people to commit crimes such as the actual theft of money and art valued at various amounts. From a simple repost without credit to stealing a character that could be either a happy representation of the creator or a reflection of the creators’ worlds years of their life, all art theft is wrong and can have devastating consequences for all parties involved. Just because it seems harmless at first doesn’t mean that it is a victimless crime. There are many reasons to make art whether it’s emotional or for monetary gain, but there is no good reason to commit art theft.
Ayres, Jon “The Myths and Realities of Digital Image Theft” Redbubble 5 December 2007 https://www.redbubble.com/people/bossman/journal/443008-the-myths-and-realities-of-digital-image-theft
Bailey, Johnathan “Art Theft Scandal Rocks Deviantart” plagiarismtoday 29 May 2007 https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2007/05/29/art-theft-scandals-rock-deviantart/
Bamberger, Alan “Copyright Registration Law and Your Art Pros and Cons of Registering Your Art” artbusiness http://www.artbusiness.com/register_and_copyright_art_for_artists.html