For the art world, the internet is a lot like the American frontier: full of opportunity and promise – but also a place to be wary. Today, with just a few clicks, you can share your art with a worldwide audience, meet and acquire new collectors and fans, raise money for your art projects, and make life-long friends. However, along with this convenience comes a whole new wave of dangers and drawbacks, sometimes leaving artists exposed and vulnerable.

For many artists out there, the largest looming nightmare is copyright infringementArt is your craft and your livelihood, and it is a personal investment of your time, money, effort, and soul. Moreover, it is your intellectual property. Protecting your art needs to be a priority. There are a number of ways to help you do this, and we’ve laid them out for you in a quick, simple guide.

Did You Know? If someone clicks a picture of your art and posts it on the internet without crediting you, it qualifies as an act of copyright infringement.

Protecting Your Art Against Copyright Infringement

“Intellectual property is a property right that can be protected under federal and state law, including copyrightable works, ideas, discoveries, and inventions. The term intellectual property relates to intangible property such as patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.” – US Legal

“Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”  – United States Copyright Office

In layman’s terms, intellectual property is your right to protect your original work while a copyright is established when an original work is created tangibly (not just conceptually). However, unregistered work can often be hard to prove as your own, which is why it is important to keep digital or physical records. If you ever need to take a case to court, think about how well you can demonstrate that you are the creator of the artwork in question.

So, legally, how can you protect your art from copyright infringement?

Always Sign Your Name On Your Work

This is the first step in protecting your art against copyright violation. Adapt the habit of signing all your works, preferably with the year of completion.

Antelope Canyon 3 | Acrylic on Canvas | Jerry Anderson

You must always sign your artwork once it is finished. You could do it discreetly in a corner, or make you signature a part of the artwork, like Jerry Anderson does. You can also sign the back of the artwork.

Register Your Work

If you’re a U.S. artist, it is recommended that you officially register your artwork with the Copyright Office of the U.S. Library of Congress. Even though a copyright is automatically in place at the moment of creation, registering the work ensures you have sufficient proof that the work is yours. It also enables you to demand more money in the event of a copyright infringement suit. Here’s how the registration process works in the United States:

  • Go to the Library of Congress website and click on the electronic Copyright Office (eCO). Fill out the registration form and pay the required fee.
  • Once the registrar’s office examines your application, they will send you an official certificate of registration. This serves as documented evidence of your copyright, which will also be filed online as a matter of public record.

We recommend that you check your country’s Copyright laws after reading this article. Although Intellectual Property laws are similar throughout, there might be some nuances and differences that you should know about.

Keep Digital Records Of Your Work

A picture is worth a thousand words – especially if someone is claiming that your work is their own. Having a digital library of your artwork will save you a lot of hassle in the event of copyright infringement, as you can present this record in court. The great thing about photographs is that their metadata often stores the date that the pictures were taken. We have a guide for taking great photographs of your artwork, but a professional photographer can also be used to ensure that two people have evidence to support any copyright infringement cases.

Related Article: Documenting The Sale Of Your Artwork

Recognize The Risks 

You create a lot of art, so it’s important to focus your copyright protection efforts where it’s going to count. For instance, if you produce art that’s more abstract or conceptual (and thus more difficult to reproduce), then your risk of copyright infringement will be substantially lower. However, if you have pieces that contain creatures or characters that could conceivably be borrowed or replicated, or if you create images that are very iconic or have high mass market appeal, then you should always protect them using the steps outlined above.

Now, those above are all great safeguards that will prepare you well if you ever need to file a claim against a copyright infringement. However, there are several easy practices to prevent the theft of your images.

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Protecting Your Art On Your Website

There’s no doubt that posting your work online can be risky. At the same time, in this increasingly digital art world, online exposure is often critical to an artist’s success. While nothing is foolproof, there are some measures you can take to help protect your art on the web.

Convert Your Images to Flash

Before posting them online, you may wish to convert your images into a flash slideshow. This makes it impossible for those on the web to simply copy and paste the image. You can do this by downloading special slideshow converters or consulting a web design professional.

Only Publish Small, Low-Resolution Images

A small, low-resolution image simply isn’t worth stealing for most people. However, before you run off to resize all of your images to thumbnails, make sure you do not save them over your high-res images. Once you save an image as small and low-res, you cannot get that file to ever be high resolution again. For all you hold dear, save the web-ready version as a separate file.

Windows or Mac, you can use almost any image-editing software to resize images. From Photoshop to Paint, the process is universally pretty similar. You’ll usually find the “Resize” option under the “Edit” toolbar. Converting to lower resolution can be a little trickier.

Consider Adding Watermarks To Your Images

A watermark is a logo or name that is placed on top of an image. Watermarks credit you as the artist of your image and it is very difficult for anyone to remove/change this.

The one most used is the copyright notice, best known as the C symbol (©), plus the year the work was published, or the abbreviation Copr. You should also include the year of completion as well as your name into this watermark. It should look something like –

art copyright
This curated space image was featured on our Facebook Page, and in order to protect the image digitally created by us as well the painting of our artist, Corinne Garese, we could place a watermark to denote authorship.

Protecting Your Art On Social Media

While it’s possible for you to keep track of the number of people visiting and viewing your works on your site (and there are some good measures to protect them from being copied), once you add your images to social media there is absolutely no knowing where they will end up. However, avoiding social media altogether can be a serious disadvantage too. So, how do you protect your image? Here are some tips!

Read The Terms And Conditions

Do you promote your artwork on Instagram? How about other social media websites? Recently, artist Richard Prince sold a series of other peoples’ Instagram photographs and made out with around $100,000. Though this seems like an outright copyright infringement, the issue is actually in a legal gray-area. One thing we know for sure – these images would have been protected if they had been registered federally with a copyright. Whenever you are posting your artwork to other platforms, be sure to read the terms and conditions to determine what copyright protection your art has there.

Useful Article: How To Promote Your Art On Instagram

Always Add A Watermark To Your Image

Just like on your website, a watermark is one of the best tools to protect your art across social media. Not only does a watermark plainly tells the viewer that your work is protected by copyright, it will also help in a court case, as the other artist won’t be able to say his or her use of your work was “innocent infringement” (meaning it was copied unknowingly).

Place your watermark conspicuously across the image. Don’t just stick it on the edge – you don’t want anyone cropping the watermark out.

It’s increasingly important, especially in our digital age, to protect your artwork from copyright infringement. Hopefully, these safeguards and practices will ensure that your intellectual property remains your own.

With over 30 years of experience representing artists from around the world, Agora Gallery offers artists the opportunity to present their work to a broad range of national and international art collectors and buyers. Looking for an opportunity to enhance your career? Visit our Gallery Representation And Artist Promotion page for more information.

If you have any questions, let us know in the comments or email us at!