Digital Stamp Theft

Digital Stamp Theft / An Old Problem with a New Face:

I recently joined a couple on line digital stamp communities, and one of the hot topics going on, on one of them is about the rampant theft of digital stamp designs. Digital stamps are a fairly new commodity which have just taken off in the last couple of years, and new designers seem to view the theft of their designs as some kind of new problem that just started happening. In reality online copyright abuse or theft of creative and intellectual property has been going on since the web began. I have been on line as a graphics artist since 1997 and have been dealing with this sort of thing for the past 14 years. I have belonged to many copyright campaigns, started some of my own including "Does your site infringe on Copyrights?" and seen many come and go throughout the years with very little headway. Every time an artist has their work stolen people ask the same question, what can be done about this, and out come the variety of new copyright campaign logos for people to post on their sites.  Unfortunately without proper information to back this up, the logos themselves do very little no matter how many sites link to the campaign.

Education is everything, but even then many problems still exist. Just like the old saying you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink, the same problem exists with copyright infringement and those that abuse work that does not belong to them. You can only educate those that want to be educated and even more important than educating general online users is the education of the artists themselves.  To say I found this latest topic of discussion just a bit ironic is an understatement, because about a month ago I wrote to two digital stamp designer  about this same subject stating  that I thought the digital stamp community as a whole needed to start working together in order for things to improve. Unfortunately neither of the designers I wrote to ever bothered to answer my emails . The really funny thing about this if it weren’t so sad is that one of the designers I wrote to was mentioned in the recent topic of discussions as now having their work stolen. I don’t know what it is about some artists or designer not wanting to work with other artists, it may be they fear competition or just don’t care until it happens to them, but until the artists/designers as a whole get  their act together, decide to work together and help each other, this kind of thing it will continue.

The Snowball Effect:
One of the biggest problems in fighting copyright abuse of your work is the snowball effect. New Designers or those that have never found their work abused before seem to think when they have their work removed from an infringing site that this is the end of it, but in reality it may only be the beginning of much bigger problem. Several  important questions most designers should be asking is how many people downloaded this material from the infringing site before it was removed and how many other sites will now be offering these same designs without knowing where they really came from or who originally created them. It's like closing the barn door after all the animals have escaped, it's a little hard to get the situation under control. What started out as a little tiny snow ball can turn into one huge avalanche in a hurry and needs an additional amount of damage control. Look at #2 of What can designers do directly below.

What can designers do: to help prevent or at least make a dent in the theft of their work:

 1.) Get to know other designers, become familiar with their work, and let them know when you find their work being infringed on so they can put a stop to it. The more eyes and allies you have out there, the easier it will be for you to keep track of your own work so cooperation among artists is essential. Pixel artists are probably the most abused graphic designers on the web because everyone seem to love the quaint charm of these tiny mouse drawn pieces and they are copied indiscriminately for display on websites. The pixel artist community however has a huge advantage over digital stamp designers and it is that they a very close knit community who all know each other and go out of their to help other artists when they see their work being infringed on.

2.) Not only ask that your work be removed from infringing sties when it is found, but insist that the infringing webmaster make amends and set things right by posting that your work previously available on their site for download was copyrighted and should not be used or re-posted anywhere else. This will hopefully enlighten those that frequent such sites.

3.) If the infringing site is a blog and people have left appreciation comments indicating they downloaded your work, copy the entire page including links and email address as it may be necessary as proof at a later date.

4.) Contact the users that indicated they downloaded your work and let them know your images/designs are copyrighted and were offered illegally by the site in question. This single action may prevent those unaware of the situation from redistributing your images and adding to the abuse.

5.) Protect your online designs with better watermarks that can not be as easily removed. I have mentioned this to several digital stamp designers and they refused to take what I had to say seriously. It takes about two seconds to remove some of the light watermarks some designs have on their black and white images so it’s kind of a joke and no protection at all for someone intent on taking it off. If your designs are digital stamps do not post high resolution examples. Even better do not post black and white images. I color my digital stamps for display and then add the watermark. While nothing is fool proof, the more complex the color pallet, the more work it requires to remove the watermark. It may not be impossible, but you don't have to make it easy for design pirates either.

6.) So there is no doubt about your copyrights, include your terms of use in the digital stamp packages your offer for sale.

7.) Because of the repeated abuse of my work, I no longer offer freebies for direct download on my website. I know many digital stamp designers that do because it brings traffic to their sites, but I also know that many of these designers are also complaining because people are sharing and redistribugint their freebies. Offering freebies is a popular practice and it has some points on the plus side, but it also has many on the minus side. I've been thinking long an hard on this one, and if I come up with an acceptable alternative for distributing these other then the pirate call, I will added it to this piece. 

Artist Note: I have been at this for a very long time, and much of what I have suggested here I have found through my own wows and the repeated theft of my artistic work. It doesn't seem to matter what it is, art, poetry, music, tutorials, you name it, there are always people out there that will take what they don't have a right to take. No creative person or webmaster is except from this. In my early days on the web, I had a huge genealogy site as well as a linkware version of my CS Designs, I repeatedly found my work on graphic collection sites with disclaimers stating they believed my work was public domain. I have had both my entire Cherished Memories as well as my entire CS Designs site  mirrored and stolen not once but twice by the same person. He changed all reference to my name and the only thing that proved without a doubt that the sites were mine was the fact that even in the late 90's I signed my work, even my pixel art. I can understand people wanting my images, sets and tutorials but I could never figure out why someone would want to lay claim to someone Else's family. This is yet more proof that nothing is sacred or safe from someone that really wants to steal it or claim as their own work.

Update January 7, 2011:
I've noticed after the latest discussion on one of these digital art communities, there is yet another copyright campaign in place. While I commend the effort and hope it really takes off and works, one of the biggest problems with some of these campaigns has always been that people will create a logo and tell other webmasters to post it on their website as support, but stop short of remedies for real help. It is even more surprising to me that so many people link to these campaigns without ever stopping to ask exactly how this is going to improve the current situation. Copyright infringement takes all manner of forms and can't be tackled with a narrow view. It has a large scope and combating it requires not only creative thinking but a devotion that many webmasters are not willing to put into it. Educating the general web public about copyrights has always been daunting and time consuming but it is a passion that goes hand and hand with my passion for art, and I will continue to add helpful information about this subject to my site as long as I am on the web.

If you are truly interested in promoting awareness and education regarding copyrights on the web, please copy my copyright logo above and post it to your own website or blog with a link back to my site. The best way to educate the general public about copyrights is to make real information easily available to them. All the pretty campaign logos on the world won't make a bit of difference, it you don't also supply the tools nessessary for people to learn something from your efforts.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions regarding the copyright section of my CS Designs, please drop me a line. Put the work copyright infringement in the subject heading and I promise, I will take the time to answer you.