Using someone’s work isn’t “doing them a favour”

February 13, 2015 - 13 minutes read

It’s stealing.

I’ve recently come across some interesting examples of art theft and it reminds me that it’s on us creators to be educating others on the appropriate uses of our work if potential thieves don’t want to upset us or even get sued for doing something ignorant.

The nitty gritty

It’s easy to assume that just because something is on the internet and you can find it with Google that it must be free and without rules. This isn’t the case. While using someone else’s creative or intellectual property may seem harmless when used for something like a school project, any time you put that work back into the public eye you are asking for trouble.

Personally, I have yet to see someone being a jerk, ignorantly or with purpose, and not have it come full circle on them in some way. Karma usually works in wonderful ways.

When someone creates an original piece of content, they own that. Read up on copyright, trademarks, intellectual property and more. Educate yourself on your local laws, and also keep in mind that many of the popular social media and art posting sites are governed by similar rules and laws. Ignoring these rules can get you in trouble, sued, fined, hated, banned, and so on.

Why shouldn’t I steal?

Here are a few common excuses people give when caught.

I found it in a Google search, so it’s OK

Unfortunately search engines have been making this issue worse, however, some engines like Bing are attempting to remedy this by allowing you to refine your search by the type of Creative Commons license the image has.

You should be happy, I’m basically promoting you

If this is your response to someone catching you stealing their work then I don’t even know where to start. It’s incredibly arrogant, first off, and completely dumbfounding beyond that. Assuming that I even want your “promotion” isn’t enough to constitute permission to use something, I’m sorry to say. I don’t want your promotion. If I did, I would have asked you for it, or you would have asked my permission, and I would have agreed.

A good rule of thumb: Would you feel like an absolute moron reciting to a judge something like “I’m popular and I’m basically promoting them too, so they should be happy”? Then don’t do it!

Everything on the internet is public property

No. Just no. You’re smarter than that. That type of response doesn’t even need arguing. Have more respect for yourself, you’re making yourself look like you have the IQ of a fly, and that’s sad!

Good luck telling the judge “everything on the internet is mine, didn’t you know?” Sounds like a comical episode of Judge Judy.

You didn’t say I couldn’t use it

Assume that you can’t. Look to see what the creator says about their work- some creators have terms and conditions included with their images, or pages devoted to those terms on their websites. Sites like Behance and Deviantart are also including Creative Commons badges that creators can customize and display with their work to let you know if you have permission to use or not and to what extent.

I’m the one that made this

This is usually a funny excuse, because not only can you be sued for stealing and impersonating people, but you’re also likely embarrassing yourself when the quality of your real work can’t stand up to the quality of the people you’re stealing from. It’s yours, hey? Let’s see you create something for us in person of similar quality and style? Right. I didn’t think so.

It’s fan-art, so it’s OK

Fan-art can be OK in some cases. If you are creating your own scene with someone else’s characters just to post because you like it, that’s usually OK. If you’re taking someone else’s creation and including it within your own, that’s not OK.

It’s also a heavily perpetuated misconception that fan-art is OK to sell. Some creators don’t care, however if you are making money off of someone else’s characters then they’re likely going to get upset. Some of the largest comic book publishers have shut down certain sales at comic conventions when people were becoming too successful selling artwork with copyrighted characters in it and they weren’t receiving a cut of the money.

When in doubt, ask permission.

I didn’t know you can’t do that

Then ask permission. Unfortunately, playing dumb is not an excuse that can save you from all consequences in life.

There’s nothing you can do about it

I know more than a few artists and designers whom have successfully sued people for theft or impersonation. It’s also one of the easiest ways to get blocked from most social media sites with a simple click of the “report” button. An evil part of me is always happy to see a creator’s fans mobbing someone online and letting them know how scummy what they’ve done is. Either way, whether with a lawsuit, permanent ban from your favourite website, or just plain bad karma, you will get what’s coming to you. Being famous or more well known that the average Joe won’t even save you from the consequences of the world. It’ll catch up.

I love you! I just want your work all around me!

Incredibly flattering! Please do so respectfully, then. In most cases like this, creators are happy to work with fans that support them. In some small way every case of theft is a bit of flattery, but what would be better is if you just worked with that artist that you liked and got their permission to use their work, or better yet, to collaborate with them.

This is how my friends do it

By all means, tell us their names too so that we can educate them as well, or you can once you know better. If they don’t come around then I guess it’s time to report, ban, sue, etc. with them as well.

Insert X excuse here

Still illegal, still an easy way to get kicked off of many website and out of many social circles, an excellent way to lose respect, a great way to make a bad name for yourself, and so on. It’s immoral, it’s wrong. Stop. Know the rules. Read people’s disclaimers, or ask.

What you should do if you see it happen

  • Report it – most social sites, for example, don’t put up with it once they know about it
  • Tell the person, politely, you don’t appreciate them stealing
  • Let the original creator know

As a thief, a few things you can do instead

  • Respect people’s Creative Commons Licenses
  • Check to see if a creator has a Terms of Use section on their site or social media profile
  • If you need help with images there are plenty of great cheap or free options like the Dollar Photo Club, Death to the Stock Photo, CGTextures, and more.
  • If you’re just envious of that other person’s skills, ask them for tips and tricks. I for one am happy to provide short crits on people’s work or help them out if I can
  • Improve your own skills so you don’t have to rely on the achievements of others. There are plenty of great and affordable resources like Skillshare, Treehouse, Gnomon, and tons of free ones easily found with a quick search. Show a little pride and learn something for yourself!
  • If you absolutely think your creation will be better by using or including someone else’s work then just ask them for permission and respect their answer

As an artist, a few things you can do for prevention

  • Add Creative Commons licenses to your work
  • Add a Terms of Use page to your site or in the description of your work on other sites
  • Educate anyone you come across doing this to you or another artist and let them know you don’t appreciate it, ask any of your followers to watch out for it and do the same
  • Report people that are theiving and impersonating on social media and art sites
  • Consider legal action in extreme cases
  • Add legal/license info to anything you allow to be downloaded (eg: if you make wallpaper, don’t just allow a download of the jpg, make a zip that includes the jpg and license/terms of use info)
  • Spread awareness about copyright – blog, tweet, post, etc
  • Consider not putting your best stuff in the public eye
  • If the work is actually licensed to a client that paid for it, direct THEM in the direction of the thief and watch what happens
  • Take a picture of your work in context instead of just a straight up image of the work (ex: you holding the piece, it sitting on your desk, etc) so it’s harder for someone to rip the image
  • Add your name right into your filenames as yet another reminder to the person that takes it that it’s not theirs
  • Make it harder for people by disabling them to save things straight from your site, using things like right-click blockers, Flash, etc
  • Shrink wrap, watermark, and slice ‘n’ dice your images
  • Go scary diva on anyone that takes your stuff (actually often one of the most effective methods)
  • Have you had your work stolen, plagiarized or imitated? Have you been impersonated? What did you do to stop it or prevent it from happening again? Have you caught anyone you know doing these things? What did you do to stop them? Are you someone who is stealing & plagiarizing without permission? Or impersonating someone else? Why are you such a jerk?

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