I wrote this post several years ago about trademarks, copyrights, and intellectual property tips for designers. Since then, some things have changed, so I’m updating it.
For a while, everyone’s artwork was being stolen, and trying to stop the thefts was next to impossible. It has taken a lot of work by many designers–and some court cases being decided against the main offenders–but things are slowly beginning to turn around. (Deteriorating relations with China may be helping, as shipments of goods from China and southeast Asia aren’t processing through ports as easily as they once were. These delays have impacted foreign sellers’ credentials on Amazon, Ebay, and other sites that have been prime offenders.
Today, when I searched on some of my artwork that was previously stolen, I couldn’t find any instances of my artwork being ripped off. Wow–what an amazing and welcome surprise!
Protecting Your Artwork
Are you worried, as a designer or artist, about your artwork being stolen? Here are two free ways to discover if your artwork has been stolen:
Using Google Image Search is easy, but time consuming.
- upload a copy of your artwork image in the search bar, then search!
- keep track–maybe in a spreadsheet?–of every match that turns up that is not a proper use.
- Contact the websites that are misusing your images, file a takedown notice
- If a website is particularly egregious at misusing your images, it is also possible to contact major search engines (like Google) and request that they blacklist that website.
- Google also has a special form just for reporting scraper websites.
Pixsy says it’s by invitation only. What this means is that you have to give them your email address and when they’re ready to handle your searches, they’ll email you with login information so you can sign up for their services.
- load and track your first 5000 images for free
- determine how sensitive or broad the matching algorithm is
- ignore false matches and websites that are properly using your artwork
- will contact infringers on your behalf (but only if you haven’t first contacted them another way)
- once your images are loaded, they’re automatically tracked
- matching algorithm turns up a lot of false positives
- can’t do anything legally about infringements by overseas companies
- has limited ability to stop infringements by American companies*
- you may need to wait 24 hours for your search results to populate
- large images slow down the site and take forever to load
To get the best use out of Pixsy, I discovered that it speeds loading and search times to upload smaller sized/lower resolution (dpi/ppi) images. For example, 6 by 8 inches at 72 dpi works quite well.
Do takedown notices work? Yes, many times. Do infringers become embarrassed and stop infringing? Not usually. They just find something else to rip off. This is sad and disgusting because it would be so much better if they’d put in the effort and creativity to create their own artwork and content instead!
Why do we have limited ability to stop infringements of our intellectual property and copyrights?
The last time intellectual property rights were addressed by law was back before the turn of the century. Twenty years may not seem like a long time, but the internet has changed so drastically that the laws are no longer adequate to protect our artwork and designs from theft. There aren’t any penalties written into the law for those who steal them! The way the laws are currently written, it can even be argued that companies like Amazon are being incentivized to allow the theft of our designs. They profit twice: once when they make money from hosting the sale of our stolen artwork, and again when they’re notified of the theft and they claim the profits from the sale.
What can we do about this? We can call and write our Senators and Congressmen, and educate them about how these thefts hurt our income and the American economy. We can ask them to write new laws to protect our intellectual property rights and to give us legal recourse to collect damages for stolen artwork. (Artists and Designers have been doing this for a while now)
You can help us make a difference!
Click here to connect with your senators and congressmen and tell them to help us stop these thefts!
Only shop custom, print on demand products from recognized names in the industry.
Some of these include Spoonflower, Zazzle, and CafePress. If you’re not sure that the website you’re dealing with is legit, ask around! While purchasing from these websites doesn’t 100% guarantee that you won’t encounter stolen artwork, these websites do screen for infringements. You’re also more likely to receive a quality product.
Trademarks Copyrights and Intellectual Property–what to do when your artwork is taken down for infringement:
What do you do when you’re sent a notice that something you’ve created has infringed on someone else’s trademark, copyright, or intellectual property?
When that happens, emotions run high, feelings are exercised, and it can sometimes be difficult to look past all the drama to the facts to determine what needs to be done to address what happened, and to discover if there’s any recourse.
Notifications of Copyright Infringement
The flip side of the copyright infringement issue always seems to catch designers by surprise.
You’re minding your own business, creating a great design, and you add some words to the design that sound amazing and go really well with the artwork, then you include them in the title, description and keywords, and–next thing you know, Zazzle’s sending you a notice that you’ve infringed on someone else’s trademark or copyright, and they’re deleting your product!
I don’t know about you, but–the first time it happened to me, I freaked out! What did I do wrong? How embarrassing! That artwork was original, how could they, etc… but there wasn’t any recourse, that product was GONE. Then I discovered that searching for trademark and copyright infringements has been automated.
Zazzle has written an algorithm! And so has Spoonflower, and several other companies.
It’s nothing personal, and it’s no use whatsoever in getting offended or embarrassed or upset, just garbage in and garbage out. And I also discovered that usually these notifications pop up because of words used in the title, description or keywords, or a symbol used in the artwork. It doesn’t even have to be something that is under formal copyright.
Some designers have argued themselves blue in the face, for instance, over the utter lack of trademark or any rights at all to that red white and blue circle symbol that the RAF (Royal Air Force) wants to keep exclusively for its own use. The RAF has lost repeatedly in court in the UK on their home turf, but–Zazzle insists that it still belongs to the RAF, and won’t let us use it!
It’s no use arguing over a possible infringement with Zazzle or Spoonflower, or whichever POD that you’re dealing with.
What is worth doing instead is contacting them about the disputed design to determine what caused the algorithm to take offense, so that it can be removed and replaced with text or artwork that doesn’t offend in future designs.
I also recommend searching possible word choices in the Trademarks database.