How Artists Can Fight Copyright Infringement

by Carolyn Edlund

Have you experienced intellectual property theft? Here’s what you can do.


Knocking him out with boxing gloves


Not long ago, I discovered that I was a victim of copyright infringement. Someone had copied my content, claimed authorship, and was using it to sell their services. When I investigated further and connected with this person on Facebook, his automated messages offered me a great resource as proof of his authority as an expert. That resource was my own original work product, and it was stolen.

Infringement happens all the time. Artists are often the injured party; you may have experienced this yourself. Perhaps you’ve learned that your images have been used on products sold by third parties without permission or notice. These infringers care nothing about your hard work or copyright ownership. They are strictly out for their own gain.

How do you find out if someone is infringing on your work?

Sometimes you can type the full description of a product from your website into a search bar, and see the offending copycats come up. That’s because those lazy parasites can’t even be bothered to change the marketing copy. They just use yours.

Or, type very specific keywords into search that you use to describe your art or items on your website. Scroll down and if your images appear on sites you don’t recognize, investigate further.

You can also find infringers by using your images. Tin Eye is a reverse image search tool that can locate other places where your images are being used on the internet. It doesn’t always pick everything up, but can be helpful, and it’s free.

What can you do when you learn that you are a victim of infringement? Before you get on the phone with a lawyer, you might try self-help techniques first.

Check them out and take them down

Find out who owns the site in question by searching WhoIs, which can provide a name and email address to contact the owner directly. If they have paid for privacy, the owner’s name will be anonymous, but you can learn the identify of their domain provider, which gives you another avenue. You can also find out the hosting company for any website by using SatoriStudio, which is a free service.

Several years ago, I discovered that someone had ripped huge swathes of my published content and was literally creating a “mirrored site” of Artsy Shark. It turns out the infringer was in Morocco, but his website hosting company was in Pennsylvania. I wrote to the host, explained the issue and linked to the duplicated content. Within a half hour, his website had disappeared off the face of the earth. Poof. This doesn’t always work, but it can happen.

You can approach a hosting company, or you can contact the company that holds the domain. For example, GoDaddy has a copyright infringement reporting process that will send your complaint to the right people through a link in their footer titled Report Abuse.

Likewise, if the infringer is selling products using your images on Etsy, Amazon, or another third-party website, notify site management. Most of them take it seriously, and have information on the procedure to report a violation.

Gather proof

When you set out to fight the bad guys, you must have proof. Gather all links to web pages that display the stolen intellectual property (such as your art) and take screenshots that show clearly that they have infringed. Hold on to this information and keep all records about the infringement organized, because you may need them for a while.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a U.S. copyright law that helps victims of infringement report intellectual property theft. There are certain requirements you must meet in order to send a DMCA Takedown Notice. Get those details here.

Exert direct influence

When you have identified an infringer and gathered evidence, you can often get results through direct contact. Send a firm but calm email to the website owner. As much as you would like to call them every name in the book or threaten bodily harm, you must take the high road (after all, you’re the good guy.) I’m not an attorney, so I don’t have legal advice on your letter, but here are few common sense suggestions:

Tell them you know they have infringed and have proof (attach screenshots) and demand the removal of offending content. State in no uncertain terms that they must cease and desist immediately. Tell them you are preparing DMCA Takedown notices to force compliance with their host and domain provider.

I have often found that a clear and strongly worded message will get results. The other party will most likely be flustered and may fear that their website is at risk. In that case, they will probably comply while offering a lame excuse and mumbled apology. That’s what I got from my (somewhat embarrassed) infringer.

Call them out

There have been some high profile infringement cases where artists have called out offenders in public, and the accusation went viral on social media. Public humiliation can be very effective. When an artist has been wronged, it naturally concerns other artists (who are of course also at risk) and they take up the cause as well. Nobody wants their dirty laundry aired in public, and proof of blatant theft can cause the cockroaches to start scurrying.

Before you start a public campaign against an infringer, however, think first about whether you want to get involved in a street fight. It is likely, especially with a minor case of infringement, that you can solve it yourself and then move on with your life.

Sometimes infringement is very serious. There may be a lot at stake, including your reputation as an artist. If you detect infringement and a big brand or manufacturer is involved, you may be best served by getting an attorney involved. Legal action can be expensive and time-consuming, but is sometimes necessary. You will have to give a lot of thought to your options, and a professional can help you do that.



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