A Look at Online Copyright Issues Faced By Artists

by gclatworthy on December 23, 2012

[US Law and General] In the past, copyright laws in the United States were fairly clear. Essentially, an artist who created something, whether it be art, a piece of music or an idea, was protected from the moment of creation against others taking the piece and claiming ownership without paying. Unfortunately, for many artists, the Internet has muddied the waters regarding copyright law, and some artists have lost a great deal of money as a result.

How the Internet Affects Copyright

Because the Internet is a massive, sprawling network of connections, people all around the world are able to access information placed online. When it comes to copyrighted materials, such as paintings or graphic art, it is typically assumed that by placing such materials on the web, others will abide by copyright laws and not steal the material — on the other hand, the perpetrators sometimes make an assumption that whatever is “published” in a public forum may be reused elsewhere online. What is not common knowledge is that photos online, whether on portfolio sites or public forums, are most time copyrights — if not by the site’s terms of service, than by the photographer that uploaded them.

Why Does This Happen?

Because the Internet is still a relatively new phenomenon, scientists are currently conducting studies regarding online behavior and thinking, but one of the more popular reasons attributed to copyright theft online is the idea that there is no physical theft taking place. Essentially, a person who downloads copyrighted material without permission is not making the same guilt connection within the mind that would typically be associated with stealing from a physical store. Another reason given by some Internet users is that they believe information should be free to share, copyrighted or not. These individuals argue that by placing something within the public domain for all to see or hear, the material then becomes the property of everyone.

What’s Being Done?

In order to combat the practice of illegally downloading copyrighted materials, artists and businesses are attempting creative solutions. In some cases, an artist who works with an online art retailer, such as www.artismo.com, may place a watermark or special signature over the entirety of each of their digital pictures in order to discourage theft. In other cases, some artists are offering their creations to the public based upon what each downloader is willing to pay. Using this model, the downloader can basically download the material for free, or he or she could pay what they believe the material is worth. Whether any of these models can be successful in the long-term remains to be seen, but for now, some artists have been able to make them work.

The Final Cost

It’s important to point out that illegally downloading copyrighted material hurts artists in many ways, not just financially. Of course, the financial cost an artist experiences due to the illegal downloading of copyrighted material may be substantial, but the cost in morale may be just as great. When an artist sees his or her creation being stolen, he or she may begin to feel that it isn’t worth his or her time to continue creating. This can then lead to lower standards for the artist and the art community.

If you’re currently involved in illegally downloading copyrighted work, or if you’re thinking about doing so, you might also consider the fact that you may end up in court because of your actions. Many artists or their representatives are taking a stand against illegal downloaders, and some individuals have been sued for millions of dollars for their actions. Remember, illegal downloading hurts the artist, the art and the community as a whole – do the right thing and pay for the materials you download. 

Georgina Clatworthy is a legal writer within an interest in art, design and illustration. Whilst it is easy to think that downloading images from the web will not end with a day in court, the opposite is often true.  Purchasing good quality artworks from the online retailer, www.artismo.com, means that not only have you legally obtained a piece, but that the artist will receive proper accreditation and royalties too.

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