John writes: Hi Lisa I’ve been watching your videos on youtube and I love your gift it’s amazing and thank you for all you share and give, I had a question about art I’m an artist as well and I see you post your stuff all the time which I understand is about how to keep fan base growing like you said on your video on how to get more follower, my question is for me I would love to post my artwork online YouTube and what not but I also am aware of other people copying art and taking credit for it I do have one picture copy written and have posted that one and it’s on my business cards, but what advice do you have regarding this I’ve tried asking other artist on instagram, face book and twitter and now of them get back to me it sometimes really feels like a competition type of thing and I’m really just trying to get advice. Can you help me out with this issue please and thank you. ?

People are going to copy your work. It doesn’t matter if they saw it in a gallery or online. It’s going to happen. Sometimes it’s not even about copying, but being inspired by your work and theirs ends up coming out looking similar. Whether or not that is a copyright violation depends on how similar to your work it was. You both painted an owl? Not a copyright issue. You both painted an owl with a grey and white damask background with an orange line through it…possibly a copyright violation.
When we post stuff online, yes we are running a high risk of it being copied. There are three common things that happen:

1 – The work gets stolen by someone who is turning around and making prints to sell.

This is a clear 100% violation of copyright. Sending a cease and desist letter will usually put a quick stop to it. You also can sue them if you feel the need. If your work is any good…it will most likely happen sooner or later. It’s happened to me. I had a woman who is involved with dog shows (she shows papillons and is heavily involved with the papillon club on the west coast) who had gotten her hands on several of my Italian Greyhound drawings. They were clearly taken off my website and had the watermark VERY badly removed. She was then printing them on pillows etc to sell at dog shows. It turned out she had done this to several artists who did not give her the rights to their work.

I had a woman who is involved with dog shows (she shows papillons and is heavily involved with the papillon club on the west coast) who had gotten her hands on several of my Italian Greyhound drawings. They were clearly taken off my website and had the watermark VERY badly removed. She was then printing them on pillows etc to sell at dog shows. It turned out she had done this to several artists who did not give her the rights to their work.

As some of you know, I used to show studio assistants #1 and #2. Because of this, I know MANY people in the dog show world. It did not take long for me to be notified of this woman doing this. When I contacted her she was quite upset. She claimed her adult son had purchased a CD full of royalty free reference images of dogs for $500 and gave it to her for mothers day. I tried to get her to give me the information on this CD. She told me that she couldn’t get a hold of her son and did not have the information. Uh…if it was a legit CD it would have the information of where it came from ON THE DISC! I knew she was lying. Either she stole the images herself, or (what I feel is more likely), her son, not knowing/caring about copyright, downloaded every breed artwork he could find online, threw it on a disc and lied about where he got it and that he paid for it.

This lady stopped selling things with my work and others from that disc. While there were steps I could have taken to push the matter farther (like reporting her to those who handle vendors at these shows, reporting her to her own dog club, or even suing), I feel it isn’t worth my time. She stopped what she was doing immediately so I called it case closed.

I have known of many artists who have this happen. What I do is make sure not to upload images that are high resolution. If someone wants a good print, they are going to have to get it from me. Anything else will look so bad that it isn’t even competition for my real prints. When it happens it is not the end of the world. You contact the person doing it and it stops. The law is on the side of the artist.

2 – The work is copied by another artist.

This, I feel, is much more common. This generally comes from artists who are either just learning to paint, or who are very very new at trying to sell artwork. It is rare that someone honestly trying to be taken seriously as an artist will copy work from another artist once they are professionals. Many new artists don’t understand copyright or why it would be bad to sell a copy of someone else’s work. When it’s pointed out to them they are usually embarrassed and stop immediately.

Because I do tutorials it is expected that people are going to copy my work as they learn to paint. They don’t have rights to sell or make prints, but some do anyway. Even in those cases, let’s be realistic, these are newer artists. Their skills/technique is still very much under development. That work is rarely going to be competition for my own. I don’t say that to sound prideful, it’s just that there is a difference in work created by a new artist and one who has been working on those skills for the past 20 years. I feel like someone who is going to buy the work from the newer artist is not the same buyer who would spend hundreds or thousands on the original design from me. They aren’t actually hurting my income in those cases. When they start making prints I will have them stop, though.

3 – Someone copies a concept. 

Let’s say you like to paint goldfish in dryers. Someone else paints a goldfish in a washing machine. OMG THEY COPIED YOU!!! Well no, they did not. They *might* have been inspired by you, they might not have ever even seen your work. Whatever you’re creating, there is almost certainly someone else creating something similar. And so what if they are inspired by your design. Unless it’s a full on copy, it doesn’t matter. We are never quite as unique as we like to think. What is going to separate you and your dryer goldfish from the other artist and their washing machine goldfish is how you brand and market yourself. It’s more about that than it is the artwork!

In the first two cases, when my work is stolen it is not the end of the world. It is an inconvenience in that I have to send a cease and desist letter, but that’s about it. Not putting yourself and your work out there because you’re afraid someone will steal or copy it is pointless. Why bother creating the work at all then?

One thing that is really nice about posting your work on youtube is that there will be an upload date for everyone to see. If someone claims they painted it first, it’s pretty easy to call them out for it and report them to Facebook/instsagram/whatever for copyright violation.