Stealing Images Online

Robert Genn’s latest Painter’s Keys newsletter is discussing copyright online and mentions them awful copyright notices that artists put all over their work.

“Those imprints are called “watermarks,” and while they give the copyright holder a feeling of security, they don’t deter Chinese clone shops from helping themselves. They don’t deter others, either, and it is photographers, particularly, who know all about it. Some pirates think we are living in the last days of copyright and they want to get to the New World. Using low-pixel images will certainly deter someone from making a direct giclee from your image, but no technology will stop somebody making a hand copy of anything you put out there.” Continue Reading Article..

Photographers must have their work stolen more than painters online as they’re much more protective than painters, but it’s a challenge that all artists have to deal with. Most of the copyright lawsuits seem to come from photographers and their estates, so maybe they just don’t like sharing as much as painters ;-)

I don’t think the solution is to place copyright notices all over your work though. It’s something that I dislike with a passion. If the notices are too big or obtrusive I quickly leave the site. I appreciate that the artist is just trying to protect their work, but what can a thief really do with a small, low resolution image on the Internet? A print shop certainly can’t use a pixelated little Internet image to start producing posters to sell online.

The only real solution to the problem is to stay offline, which means missing out on a lot of opportunities. The next best solution is to use a reasonably low resolution image online, but not so low or small an image that it annoys a potential collector. If you must use a watermark or copyright notice, make sure it is hidden in a corner and does not contrast with the art in any way.

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this post. I am an artist that also gets annoyed at galleries with humogo watermarks. I understand folks wanting to protect themselves but the only way to be 100% safe is to stay off-line with your work, and that is just silly. Artists get so fearful and hung up about getting ripped off either in style or directly having their images borrowed, when they should be out there creating great new work. I have even seen artists use the “fear of getting ripped off” as an excuse not to promote themselves. I have seen my stuff ripped off and resold on ebay by “oil painters” in China, I reported it and since that time I have published 306 new original works on-line. Create Create Create, and move forward.

  2. Photographers are more protective because if a high res copy of a photo is stolen, the printed version would be no different than the original. If a high res jpeg of a painting is stolen the best that can be printed is a poster. That said I agree that people are being paranoid; a 1000 px wide jpeg is good enough to view and can only print 3-4 inches wide. As a photographer I figure the people who are satisfied with a 4″ print are not really potential customers.

  3. There is no protection from unscrupulous people. Lock your car at the mall, set the alarm. The professional theif is deterred for a few extra seconds. There is software like Genuine Fractals GF-Print Pro (a Photoshop plug-in) that can increase resolution up to 500% with little apparent loss of quality. Certainly not to the casual viewer.

  4. Big, big, big issue with no real solutions. Did you ever read that art law series I did? Might be helpful if you are doing research of topics like this. Gary Schuster is an awesome guy.

  5. Get over it. You are far better off having people stealing your work than you are having people ignore it. When people who truly want to purchase the real deal attempt to do so only you can provide the genuine article.

    And the cheap imitators may make a few bucks but they’re making money you would never see anyway. The by-product however is additional exposure of your work as a desirable commodity.

    Don’t be silly enough to hide in a closet because you’re afraid of being taken advantage of. You’ll never sell anything.

    - krasicki

  6. The premise is that the small digital reproduction of your painting is your artwork. It’s not. It’s a small digital reproduction of your original painted canvas (or whatever medium you works in). This is a concept that the art world has been familiar with since 1929: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” as RenĂ© Magritte said.

    So, the art is not stealable – no one’s breaking into your studio and taking your paintings.

    However, small digital images of your artwork, while not your artwork, are still your intellectual property (although the whole conecpt of IP has been misused by so many large corporations recently, but that’s another discussion). To be pedantic, when someone else uses your intellectual property without your permission it’s still not “theft” or “stealing”. Nor is it “piracy” (that involves violently taking control of sea-going vessels). It’s technically an infringement of intellectual property.

    But let’s look at the context: when you place images of your artwork on a website, their purpose is to help you sell more paintings – they’re your marketing material. So the question is, while the small digital images are your intellectual property, do you want to prevent the wider, free, distribution of marketing for your artwork? In the event that the image is unattributed (i.e. there’s no way a viewer can see it and easily find your website and buy your artwork) is it demonstrably harming your sales? If the answer to both of these questions is “no” then what’s the problem?

    I covered this question in more detail on my blog last year, so I’ll hope you don’t mind me linking to that post if you want to read this argument further:

  7. thanks for posting about this. It’s an important topic that needs to be talked about more.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Technically the image, photo or digital, could be considered a new artwork all together. It can share the same copyright protection as the original work itself. That is why you can’t use images that museums have taken of their collections.

  9. This is a huge debate. I happen to fall into the camp that says artists and photographers worry too much about people stealing their images online.

    I do however think that artists and photographers should watermark their images – not to stop people from “stealing” their work and using these low resolution images as their own, but to allow people to find the source of the image if they want to see more work from the original artist.

    I personally would be honored if a team of Chinese painters chose my work to reproduce. It would be a sort of validation of my work, and if they chose my work it would likely be because I was successful enough that I had name recognition.

    In the end you can shield yourself from all sorts of theft and heartache by hiding your work in a box so that nobody can see it. But what’s the point? While artists and photographers strive to make money, they should also want people to see their work, and they should want their work to flourish. That only happens if your work gets propagated and put in front of a lot of eyeballs.

  10. Donald Frazell says:

    Jack Nelson above is right about photos. All my old 4x5s I scanned and can print far better than on old school BW paper, as even Ansel Adams admited before he dies, digtal prints are far superior. One can get the details to pop and have total control through the photoshop image. It IS the artwork, so postimng a print on the internet at large size IS taking the original image. So photographer must use smaller sizes as he said so they cannot print hi quality at 8×10 or larger. I print on my Lightjet 430 and blows away what I saw at Photo LA over the weekend, damn, they are stuck iin the past, or just naked anorexic girls, and artsy design, decorations. I quit when I was at least on a part with Brett Weston, at the same time he was working around 1980, and no one gets him but have to show it because his father is the most famous art photographer.

    My paintings never look just like the scanned transperancies, cant get the colors to match, usually more contrast and richness, as many bad paintings look more interesting in catalogs than real life. It enhances bad works, but can ruin the relationships in real paintings. Size matters, or so I am told. So paintings need to be seen at their true dimensions, and have done a few that are close for friends and sold some. Paint has its own plasticity that cannot be reproduced, though photos can, and so should be treated differently.

    And Jack, you arent the Mater Dei guy, are you? Just a thought. Green and gold still rules over Red and grey.

    art collegia delenda est

  11. Its cool to see the same argument being made. If you replace the word art with software you will see another world that has dealt with copyright infringement. The open source community deals with this intellectual property problem quite well with the GNU publishing license. Drop a bit of ego and see where people take your work as opposed to shielding it from the world and having it rot in obscure oblivion. Take your baby off that dangerous pedestal and get it crawling on all fours.

  12. I sell my digital art and graphic prints online as well. You are right, there is not much you can do to stop the theft of your work. Unlike with content, you can scan images to make sure someone else is not using it or profiting from it. It is extremely sad that stupid untalented dogs steal other people work.

    I use to put copyright words on my art, but I found that they would sell less and I would get less comments. Even when I put a small logo or copyright image on the photo, it still dotes not sell as well. But it will at least stop people from uploading your work!

    And guess what? There IS a way you can take small resolution photos and blow them up larger online (I prefer not to state the techniques because that would induce theft) but jsut because it is in low resolution does mean it can’t be blown up. We just live in a dog eat dog world. And unless you are a millionaire, there is no way you can afford to copyright (legally) every piece of art work you create!

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