A3 Blanket Print - Annie Dornan-Smith Design
As an Illustrator, I have come across a lot of conflict in this area, and I think it applies to a lot of creatives, especially people who make 2D art like paintings/illustrations and photographs. These days, as we all know, the internet is mostly an essential part of building a personal brand for your craft, and publicising yourself.
However, we all know too, that the internet can be an unpleasant place full of ruthless people who are safe behind the anonymity of the internet, and a lower level of 'policing' than real life. Some people believe, and do, get away with anything, and naturally as people who are tentatively sharing their work for the attention of honest, money-spending consumers, we are scared of being capitalized on by the less-than-honest, quick-buck-wanting users of the web.
I've heard dreadful stories of creatives who have their work stolen and replicated for someone else's gain, unlawfully, and have had a unpleasant and likely expensive time trying to get them to stop, and to have anything done about it.
I'm afraid that I don't have a huge amount of knowledge with tackling art thieves who have already stolen your work. Most people suggest reporting them to their web host or the social media they are posting on, but frankly, I find that to be enormously discouraging as it only stops the anonymous individual from posting until they make a new, free, email address and sign up with a new account, and start the process again! One person I've seen approaching the issue was urging fans and readers to report the offenders to action fraud, which seems like a good idea, although I'm not aware of how effective it is.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Though getting justice is hard for your work, I thought I would provide a few tips that can help prevent people getting "creative" with your work and help you protect your work online.
1. Watermark It
I don't personally do this one - I hate the way it looks - even the prettiest logos completely ruin whatever image you're trying to put out there. Furthermore, it is easily photoshopped out - I can tell you that even I know how to photoshop something like that out. (Not for image-stealing purposes, I hasten to add, but it's very helpful for getting rid of spots or accidental paint swipes)
Still, some people use it religiously, so I thought it was worth at least a mention. If you are going to watermark, put it in the most annoying place where it is least likely to be airbrushed out (i.e, over a pattern, rather than nice blank white area) and try to use it in conjunction with one of the other ways.
2. Take a Photo of Your Work
Like the images I included, this is my preferred way of sharing my work. One way to stop people from slapping your work on a t-shirt and selling it as their own work on Redbubble or similar, is to style and photograph your work. It makes the area featuring the artwork even smaller and harder to Photoshop effectively. Little bits of shadow or un-evenness in light will help deter 'right-click & save as'-ers.
The camera also helps to reduce the 'quality' of your artwork online. Unless your image is a blindingly crisp, well lit and well focussed image, there will be a considerable degree of 'quality' lost. This again deters people from downloading your image if, when they crop it down to the actual artwork, it is blurry and noisy.
If you are worried about loss of quality putting purchasers off, you can show this in other ways, such as showing some close up, well-lit, perfectly focussed images of small sections of the work. I often do this for my shop, where I take a very close up image of a part so that people are able to 'look closely' at the detail and texture.
I personally feel this is more effective and also prettier than simply uploading the scanned or saved image of your work.
3. Save a Smaller Version of Your Work for Online
This is also a thing I do. Not only does it help your site to load faster, but if your image is only 600px wide, it's harder to stretch it to fit things like an A4 piece of paper, or a T-shirt. However, there is always smaller stuff that people can still fit a 600px image onto, but not uploading a 3000px image does help to curb it a little.
For me it is just a case of opening my image in Photoshop, adjusting the image size to 600px wide (and obviously, an appropriate length to match) and saving a copy of the image. This is what I do with Your Weekly Reminder where I don't want to photograph the image.
4. Edit the Metadata of your images.
This is not super permanent, but it's often a thing that can get overlooked, and that is changing the Metadata of your jpegs. This can be done by right clicking an image in it's folder and selecting 'properties' (I'm sorry but I'm not sure how to do this on Macs!) There you can adjust the 'Author', title etc of the image, which can be useful if you discover your work, uncredited, on another site. Most people will likely forget to remove or delete this data, so right-clicking and saving the image from the offending website will probably reveal that the metadata is still there - proving the image is yours. Of course, this won't really help you if you find your work on a T-shirt or something somewhere, but it's worth mentioning.