Design Weasels Beware!
Over the years I've had my artwork stolen via the internet more than a few times. I'll admit it gets old and when I now see an email show up in my inbox and the subject line read "Is this your artwork?" I still get a sinking feeling in my stomach because I know it'll waste hours of my time having to deal with it.
Because this has happened to me a lot (16 times so far in 2009 alone) I've educated myself in regards to the copyright laws as they pertain to my profession as an Illustrative Designer. Specifically the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
I'm no legal eagle by any means but I've had to hire a copyright lawyer to fight a few violations that exceeded my own ability to manage and resolve myself and through these circumstances I've been able to learn how best to handle these online infractions in accordance to the DMCA.
Who Owns Copyright?
In general the creator of the artwork by default owns the copyright for the art regardless if it has been officially filed with the government or not. That said having it filed gives you a better foundation for litigation pursuits of course. But realistically it's not practical for a digital illustrator to officially copyright each and every piece of art they create.
You can gang up 4-6 images on one 8.5x11 sheet and get them all copyrighted officially for around $50. So I've tried to cherry pick the artwork I think is most vulnerable to infringement and once ever quarter send off a sheet to get them protected. So a budget of $200 can go a long way to protect yourself annually.
Responding to Copyright Violation
So what do you do when your art has been stolen and someone is using it online without your permission? Well below is a link that will show you a pre-formatted letter you can customize and send to the web site or person responsible for providing the access to your infringed artwork.
Most web sites have accepted this DMCA protocol requiring six points of information to be provided by the infringed party to the web site containing the alleged copyright infringement. And most web sites will allow you to email it to their legal contact but some require you to physically mail it as well which ironically contradicts the DMCA which says a digital signature is as good as a physical one, but I digress.
You'll notice the six points in my example but I also add a seventh point as well. Most reasonable people will immediately remove the art but very few if any will provide the information I request in point number seven. But that doesn't stop me from requesting it, I should know that information so I can follow up on being fairly compensated for my arts usage but unfortunately most sites will just honor the six points and ignore the seventh and hide behind the DMCA which allows them to. Hence why I refer to them as weasels.
View Copyright Infringement Letter.
I hope this information helps you as you strive to share your work online without fear of infringing weasels taking advantage of your hard work.