So it happened.
I had opened up my iphone Facebook app to check my page comments as I do on a regular basis. To catch up with fans, answer questions or add a comment to an amusing reply I received from a collector. It’s something I often do and have always done since the beginning of my business in 2004. (almost 8 years!) Sometimes you get a weird comment or maybe a spam post from another page that decided to try to reel in people from my page. (ugh) and then sometimes there is a troll that must be dealt with. (this is no democracy, people!)
And then I saw this:
“This is not your work. You are copying the real artist. This is wrong.”
It’s nothing new that people will recall Gustav Klimt as my work has been somewhat inspired by his concepts, so I take these comments with a grain of salt. But this, I’d soon find was something else. Quite entirely, and hiliariously different.
I was a bit pained by the accusation but I had deleted the erroneous comment and went on with my day. Later in the afternoon, as I was getting my emails, I came across this one, from the same person who commented on my page:
“Dear Natasha, I’d like you to know that I am seeing copies of your art on the web. They’re trying to sell prints of these! Thought I would let you know.” And then, they went on to link to my very Facebook fan page (http://www.facebook.com/natashawescoat) and the image that they commented on:
Then went out of their way to contact me, as so many wonderful people do, to warn me of anything infringing. But this, was…a little confusing. She didn’t read that this was the official fanpage. She didn’t see that my official website referred to it as well! She didn’t really look into the authenticity of the content. All she knew was, that she came across my Facebook post, which was probably “liked” and promoted on their profile, and she, knowing my work and who I was, believed someone to be impersonating me.
The problem is continuing to grow. It was last month, that some anonymous character on Twitter asked me if I was getting my “inspiration’ from Google search, to which they linked to Google image search showing hundreds of tree-related art images, mine being the highest ranked images in search (LOL).
Even worse, I received a few emails from people assuming that my work was copying the swirly tree wall decal designers who have popped up all over the web.
The problem: I am a very successfully licensed artist, but my name is not entirely recognizeable. My art has a strong web presence. My art is shared, reshared, tweeted, retweeted, liked and posted ALL over the world wide web because it draws people. It becomes immediately loved, and it is reflected in that and the wonderful letters and emails that I receive. When people see it, they want it.
My art goes viral.
Why is that a problem? I am not recognizeable. Me. I don’t really put my face out there, and I’ve tried not to. I’m not usually on Television. I haven’t been on Oprah. If you came across me on the street, you’d never know who I was. But my art? heh. You may recognize it even if you don’t know the name of the artist! And that’s the typical plight of any artist. Our work is visual, and the web is a magnet for the visual.
Now, because my art is becoming bigger than the name, people are beginning to question: who came first? The copycats or the artist? Not having PR or a stronger presence for the name itself is detrimental.
So I was shocked and dissapointed, but I had to chuckle a little. These people love the work but they don’t really know the artist. I can do all that I can to share my work and who I am via all the tools in the world, but the ART itself is shared and people tend to separate the art from it’s owner. And I failed to protect my work, and keep it close to me. Like my own child. I didn’t protect my creations from leaving my side on their own. They had no origin or connection to me. Once they became public, it was like they were no longer mine! I failed to take the necessary steps to do such, but now I’m learning. Now, I’m taking those steps to protecting my work better, for my past works and future works.
So, artists - What should you do?
How do you build your art brand without it getting ahead of you?
Without it getting to the point where noone is sure who owns what?
5 WAYS TO PROTECT YOUR ART AND NAME
1. Be sure to always copyright your work (as soon as the concept is conceived). I did this as well, so I don’t have a worry there. Be sure to have the documents to prove you are the original creator. It’s legal backup and reputation saver.
2. Watermark your images!!! I cannot say this ENOUGH. I don’t care if you post your images on print on demand sites, galleries, art groups, forums, twitter, facebook, myspace, ETC! NEVER ever share another artwork online without the transparent copyright name (even website address – as long as you never change it) over the middle of every single artwork. You never want someone to steal your images for printing, imitation or infringement. People often share your work on the web without thinking to note who it is or where it’s from. Out of laziness or impulsivity, this often happens. ALOT. Just take out the work for them, and save yourself the pain.
3. Always add the tags, keywords and captions to your artwork in posts to make sure it’s certain that this is your work. I know it’s a pain, and sometimes a LOT of work, especially if you already have hundreds of images out there. But do this on your sites and blogs.
4. Offer pictures of your work in different ways that are harder to steal. When people share, they don’t always attribute the creator of the content and alot of sites like Pinterest, will make those images easily downloadable to your desktop at a very large size. Take photos of the work at different angles, scenes or details that can be shared on the web instead. Encourage fans to use those images mostly.
5. Resize all web related images of your work to the smallest resolution and size. 72 dpi is the textbook resolution and make them at least 500px or up to 800px at the most. Even huge artists I’ve known have made the mistake of uploading a higher resolution and size on sites like Flickr and not realize there are privacy settings to your account that allow others to download your images easily if you don’t change it. Don’t make it easy for others to use your work. You will lose money and time.
6. Connect your art to you as much as you can. Do things that help people associate the art to it’s artist. Whether you want to share your face or be completely anonymous with a “brush de nom”, do things that help people associate the art to you. Videoblogs, watermarking, blogging, tweets, etc – try to incorporate your name and likeness in EVERYTHING. It may be slightly annoying to others, but maybe even initialing your posts and tweets with your name. And everything that I mentioned above is part of this action as well. Do things to make sure the content has your name SOMEWHERE. And if you want to be public, use videoblogs and other personable social media to connect your face to your work.
So artists, what do you think we can do to protect our work on the web? Have you experienced identity confusion with fans? Copycats?
(c)photo by Aaron Jacobs.