Prevent and Detect Copyright Theft of Your Art

Concerned about infringement of your copyrighted art and images? Here are ways to protect yourself, find out about infringement, and take action.


Using a watermark can help prevent copyright infringement. Credit: Heidi Stavinga. Read about it at

Using a watermark can help prevent copyright infringement. Credit: Heidi Stavinga


Prevention of copyright theft begins with you as the artist. Under U.S. law, you own the copyright to your creative work as soon as it is created. However, putting images of your art on the internet exposes you to the risk of infringement. This means that others could potentially place your images on other websites without permission or attribution. Or, they could be printed as “reproductions” and sold by other parties. How can you lessen the chance that this will happen?

Use low resolution images online. Images with smaller file sizes (also called low-resolution or low-res) cannot be printed out without causing pixelation, and thus are useless to people who would sell your art as their own. Low-res images load faster on websites as well, and are standard for online use. You can compress your images here before you place them on a website.

Use watermarks. Watermarks can be used effectively to keep others from using your art images without permission. They vary from subtle  marks (see Heidi Stavinga’s painting above) to bolder marks that make it more difficult and undesirable to steal.

Show work in situ. One way to alleviate concerns about copyright theft is to share your art shown in an in situ photo.  Although the photo itself might be used by others, your art cannot be presented as a product for sale.

Deactivate right click. Some third-party gallery sites and website providers offer this protection, which does not allow site visitors to right-click and save your images. Although this is not foolproof, it discourages people from trying to grab your online images.

Register your copyrighted work. Proof positive of ownership of your copyrighted materials can be obtained by registering your artwork with the U.S. Copyright Office. Learn more about that process here.

If you want to allow others to use your images online, but would like to set conditions (such as attribution) Creative Commons is a site with tools to help you do that.

How can you detect whether other people have infringed on your copyrights by placing images online without permission?

Tin Eye offers a “reverse image search” function that helps you determine where your photos are shown online, and it’s free to use. Simply upload your file, or enter the image URL, and it will search for other sites where the image resides. This puts you in a position to see whether there is infringement taking place.

Pixsy is a site devoted to helping artists, photographers and others detect and enforce their copyrighted work through their legal team, which keeps 50% of any settlements they collect on your behalf.

The experience of having your work infringed upon can be stressful, and cost your business money. One of the first steps that any artist can take when they find evidence of infringement is to send a DMCA takedown notice, which may resolve the problem. Lawsuits can be time-consuming and expensive, and having the image removed from the offending site may be satisfactory for you.

An organization devoted to helping artists with all types of copyright infringement matters is Copyright Collaborative, which helps their members detect, defer and fight intellectual property theft.

Artist Credit: Heidi Stavinga


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