Friday, August 18, 2017

What can you do if your artwork is copied?

Several friends have asked me to blog about copyright issues I experience, so here goes. Copyright is a subject I write / talk a lot about, because protecting my artwork has become a big part of my life.

What can you do if your artwork is stolen, copied, or misused?

Answer: Dust yourself off, educate yourself, and get ready to fight for your art.

Like it or not, get ready to defend your art if you have to.

As an independent artist, I also develop a collection of products -- and between both that and my publishing projects and books, I've seen my artwork reproduced and misused. A lot. Sometimes I see it for sale as an unauthorized copy online. Sometimes I see it in a store in the mall. Being copied sucks, but I fight it and stand up for myself, and hope if you're in this situation, you will do the same.

At this point, every day of the year, I fight copies of my work at the hands of corporations and companies that use my artwork without permission and profit off it. I file hundreds of takedown notices, I register my copyrights, and I do it all myself -- and you can, too.

If you've been ripped off -- by a company or even another artist who plagiarized your work -- I am so sorry. It's a horrible feeling. Here's what you can do:

1. Be vigilant. Keep an eye out for copies of your work. Do reverse image searches of your art. Let artists know if you see copies of theirs. Ask your community to keep an eye out for you. Let them know you're ready to fight if you see a copy! Don't be complacent! And as a consumer, don't assume you're buying from the original artist just because it's on Amazon, Instagram, or Etsy (Look for the artist's copyright info!)

Seek authenticity! Look for the copyright info! And, make sure you copyright credit your own images and products.

2. If you've been copied, fight for your art. Lawyer up or file a DMCA takedown notice if you see exact copies of your artwork online or in stores. There is more information about how to do this in my links below, but it's something anyone can do (lots is possible without a lawyer's help!) I do not recommend communicating with a person or company that copied you without a lawyer's assistance.

This is basically what a DMCA notice looks like. You can find templates online.
But do not misuse this program! This form is for exact copies only, not for copies of general ideas.
3. Be an example for other artists, and a steward for your work. Register your copyrights with the US gov when possible. At $35 per registration, the costs can add up (I spent over $1000 on copyright registrations this week alone!), but your work is protected by different terms in federal courts when formally registered. Make sure your publishers register your copyrights. Do not do Work for Hire if you plan to retain ownership of your work.

All of my publishers copyright register my projects. They got ripped.
Having a formal copyright registration for each gave me a better position in a major lawsuit. Photo by Renée Chartier.

4. Help educate others. Educate the public, educate your peers. Be a positive example for your peers on how to stand up for yourself. Read about orphan works legislation that could negatively affect illustrators and advocate for artists. Support original art. Copying doesn't just hurt the artists who are stolen from -- and it does really traumatize and make an artist fearful of creating and sharing -- it also hurts the creative community by robbing it of distinctive voices and the ability to control quality and monetize one's creative work.

5. Support the artists you love who create original work. I've been a full time artist for 15 years now, and I don't know where I would be without the support of friends and fans through this harrowing aspect of being a professional artist. Sometimes fighting relentless copying kills my spirit and makes everything feel pointless. Support is important.

Support the artists you love, and encourage them. Help them afford their copyright registrations, help them fight against copies. Debbie's post about creative ways to support a kid lit illustrator / author is great!

Getting these gorgeous flowers in sympathy from my friends after I experienced a major infringement was an incredibly kind and supportive gesture that helped during a difficult time.

I've written extensively about the issue of art and copyright before, so here are a couple links to those posts for further reading:

I hope this helps, and I hope you never find out what this feels like.

But if you have a question, please feel free to leave a comment on this post and I'll respond when I can.

I am not a lawyer, but I know a lot about copyright because of my unfortunate experiences being copied. I will never stop fighting for my art! Please join me.

familiarize yourself with the work of artists you love so you can tell them if you see copies. 
A post shared by susie ghahremani/ boygirlparty (@boygirlparty) on

Susie Ghahremani is an award-winning illustrator and an advocate for artists.
Her author-illustrator debut titled STACK THE CATS was just named one of Amazon's Best Books of the Year (so far) for 2017!

For more about Susie and her books and art and her never-ending fight against copies, visit her site at or follow at @boygirlparty on instagramtwitter, or Facebook for the latest updates.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience and educating us. Hopefully, the problem resolves soon.