Trey Perry


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Protecting Your Art Online

Trey PerryTrey Perry

I originally wrote this post back in 2007. Certain links have been updated so that they point to the Internet Archive.

Maybe you’re a photographer. Maybe you’re a painter. No matter your specialty, it’s likely that you’ve worked hard to create your art, even if it was with the intention of seeking little more than attribution from others. But, as many might be painfully aware, it’s easy to take art from the Web and claim it as your own. Here are a few quick — and, hopefully, useful — tips to help prevent it from happening to you.

Never upload anything you wouldn’t copied.

If it’s your masterwork, don’t upload it. No matter what steps you take to prevent others from duplicating your work, it can be copied. As long as it’s in a format that can be read by a computer and displayed on a monitor, it will be possible to create a duplicate, even if it isn’t perfect. The MPAA and the RIAA, notorious for their easily foiled copy protection and litigious behavior, could save a lot of money and time by taking stock in this simple rule.

Be weary of art forums and sites like MySpace.

While it’s often tempting to display your work in a community, there are also times when your willingness to share will be exploited. For a good example of this, look no further than deviantART, an online art community whose management was once known to frequently license the artwork owned by their users. At one time, their user agreement entitled them to relicense your submissions to third parties without necessarily requiring your consent. This should underline the importance of thoroughly researching any art community before you join it.

There are still many art sites whose owners are ethical. Read the user agreement closely, and don’t settle for a site that could lay claim to your art at a later date.

Add a watermark.

It doesn’t need to be especially obvious. In fact, a subtle transparent watermark can be time-consuming or altogether impossible for most people to remove. A small logo, your name, and your URL will prove to be more than sufficient in most cases.

Make it lossy.

If you’re a photographer, don’t upload your high-resolution original. Use your favorite image editor to create a low-resolution version for public display on the Web. A 600 x 400 pixel image will obviously be less suitable for printing than a 3456 x 2304 pixel image. Additionally, should you decide to use a watermark, it will be more difficult to crop out at a lower resolution.

JavaScript and other browser-based solutions to this problem don’t exist.

It’s not unlike installing a steel door and deadbolt on the front of your house, but tearing down the fence and removing your back door at the same time. Although a JavaScript trick might work in some browsers, it can be circumvented by attacks that are as simple as pressing the “Print Screen” key. More sophisticated measures, such as those implemented at Flickr, can still be defeated in about thirty seconds.

Article Image Credit: “Old Paintbrush” by Steve Johnson. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

I'm a lifelong technologist based in Austin, Texas. My professional interests include distributed systems, cloud computing, and "Big Data" technology. Last, but certainly not least, I'm very passionate about work culture. When I'm not at work, I enjoy creative writing, photography, and sharing ideas.