Protecting your work

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Is there anything more aggravating than copyright infringement? Talk to illustrators who’ve been round the block a few times and the galling rip-off stories come tumbling out. It seems almost everyone has at some stage experienced blatant theft, astonishing ignorance or awkward misunderstandings relating to copyright. But there are ways to minimise your exposure and seek redress if your work is used without permission or payment.

Know your rights

Copyright law 101 for Australian illustrators is actually pretty straightforward. “In Australia the moment you create an artwork you own the copyright until you sign it away or give it away,” says IA president Richard Morden. “So just because a client has paid you to do artwork does not mean they own the artwork. They can only use it for what you agree they will use it for, and for the period of time you agree they will use it for.”

Drill down into the detail and share it with current or potential clients who don’t understand copyright law as well as they think: Illustrators Australia's resource page, Arts Law's Info Hub or The Copyright Agency.

Put it in writing

Beware verbal agreements. They’re of limited use if the wheels fall off later and the ‘he said, she said’ begins. Written contracts are crucial in clarifying copyright agreements for all concerned. Adapt the sample contract on the members-only section IA’s website; “Just get it all in writing,” Richard says. Pleads, really.

Keep your eyes open

Some infringements occur when clients exceed the limits of your agreement. Others are internet smash-and-grabs. “You might find your design used in a logo or on garments,” Richard says. Keeping an eye out makes good business sense. Richard recommends occasional reverse image searches in Google. If someone’s ripped off your design they’ll be marketing it. If you spot an IA peer’s work being infringed, give them the heads up.

Assert your rights

Social media have processes in place for dealing with copyright infringements and must act on written complaints if you can prove you’re the copyright owner, Richard says. “You point them to your website and send a clear statement saying, ‘I am the owner of this artwork and it has been used in this place without my permission’ and they have to take it down.”

“If it’s on someone’s personal website – I did in fact find an illustration of mine being used in a logo on a graphic designer’s folio page … you very clearly state that the artwork is yours, they have used it without your permission, and they need to take it down. And give them a time span, say, within five days. And check. And if they haven’t, talk to an arts lawyer.”

Consult the experts

“For anything more complex than any of these issues I would definitely recommend talking to a lawyer,” Richard says. A free online query to The Arts Law Centre is a good start.

Don’t overlook the basics

Include your name on every artwork, and /or watermark it. Only upload low-res versions that can’t be ripped off for other uses. And be prepared to explain copyright law – again and again. “It’s up to us to explain it to clients,” Richard says. “So we have to know. That’s our job.”

Kath Dolan is Illustrators Australia's Events, Membership & Accounts Coordinator. A freelance writer, copywriter and journalist, find her here.