by Curtis D. Tucker
Are you afraid your designs displayed online will get ripped off?
Never fear! They will.
How does that phrase go? Imitation is the surest form of flattery. Or, in this case, being ripped off is a sure sign of flattery.
I get this question from a large percentage of artists and cartoonists I talk to about setting up an online presence. A newbies first concern is will they get ripped off. Well, the answer is yes, but not as much as the big guys like Disney, Warner Brothers and others. You most likely know you’ve made it when your designs start getting ripped off like the more well known artists.
If you allow the fear of getting ripped off keep you from showing the world your work you most likely should get into another business. But beware, just about every business out there gets ripped off in one or another just like artists do.
Please don’t mistake this post as saying every design you create will get stolen and you’ll be getting ripped off all of the time. That just isn’t the case. It happens and it will most likely happen to you if you are online long enough. Most of the time the people stealing your designs won’t be making any money from them. Most thieves steal art from online to display or use as a part of their website. They like the images and many times don’t know about copyright laws or don’t know how to ask.
One of the main reason not to worry so much about theft is that most of the designs that are highjacked are famous designs and characters. Your designs are most likely not at the top of the most wanted list. I’ve seen dozens of local companies driving around with Bugs Bunny and Disney characters on the side of their plumbing or delivery trucks. Although this is theft it is not something that would bankrupt you if it happened.
I have found my designs online on many different websites. Some people offer my designs as clip art on their website, some have used characters in their headers and one person even opened a Cafe Press store selling merchandise with one of my characters. Did any of this effect my bottom line? Nope. Did I get everyone of them to remove my designs? Yep. So, you see, even though it is very annoying it is not something that should keep you from displaying your designs online.
One way to protect a design from about 80% of the people is to watermark it. I say 80% only because 20% of Internet surfers can quickly slip a design into Photoshop and get rid of even the best watermarks. No matter what anyone tells you there is no 100% way to keep people from taking your images. If I can see your image on my computer screen, I can steal it.
The reason for this post is to inform and encourage but also relate a funny thing that happened to me recently.
I created a fun line of designs a few years back under my WeinerDuck Pop Art name. These images were colorful and fun and I sold them mainly as prints in my hometown. I also added them to my ChuckleBerry’s greeting card line.
One of my favorite designs was a cute little airplane that I decided to offer on my royalty free character website. Basically I would allow anyone to buy the design for $29 and use it to create things or promote their business. I pretty much know where and when each of my designs is sold because I personally send most of the designs to the purchaser.
Anyway, jump forward a few years to 2011 and I find myself in our local flower shop. We’re talking a small shop in Enid, Oklahoma, just about as far away from anything as you can get.
As I’m waiting to talk to the owner of the company I start browsing the shop and spot the cutest little airplane made into a plant holder. The plane had at first caught my eye because it was shaped like a vintage pedal plane which I love. As I picked it up to see the price I noticed that it looked very familiar. Upon further investigation I discovered that this cool airplane design made in China was actually a carbon copy of my pop art airplane! (photo of the airplane below)
I do know for a fact that I have never sold a design to anyone in China so I’m pretty sure the design was never purchased. I really wasn’t mad, in fact I was a bit amused that I was able to get a ceramic version of my airplane without having to dish out the cost of manufacturing. Am I getting ripped off? Most likely. Some might argue that it is not the exact airplane, but it is. Others might say that I’m only out $29 since I allow these designs to be used by entrepreneurs. Either way I’m okay.
As cartoonists we’ve just got to keep on drawing and keep on posting. As we rise to the top of our fields people will recognize our work and we’ll get full credit for it. You’ll also eventually get to a point where other cartoonists recognize your work and will let you know when they see it being ripped off. The moral to this story is to keep on keepin on!