Blog / 2010 / How I Make Sure My Art Doesn’t Get Ripped Off on the Internet

November 10, 2010

I follow these six easy steps to make sure my art doesn’t get stolen online:

  1. Be original.
  2. I aim to make art so original that no one will question who made it.

  3. Sell only live art.
  4. I’ve given up on the idea that art in reproduction is for sale and I focus on making work that is better in person than in reproduction.

  5. Pursue credit in innovative ways.
  6. When I’ve known about images of my work being used without any mention of my name, I’ve approached the situation as a teaching opportunity.

  7. Embrace the copying of style.
  8. Lots of people make originals that resemble mine somewhat, and when they give me credit it makes me feel pretty good about my work.

  9. Don’t assume that anyone is copying style.
  10. It’s usually pretty difficult to be sure that anyone is copying anyone else. That said, if another artist was making and selling works that I was certain were copies of my paintings, I would probably talk about them on my blog. It would drive internet traffic looking for them to me.

  11. Be clear about what you want from the world and from the internet.
  12. I make sure everyone knows where I stand with regards to copyright. At the bottom of every page of my site, it says “uncopyright” in the place where you usually find a ©. Click on the link and it takes you to a page that fully explains my beliefs.

Humans have never believed in paying for an idea or even in giving credit for every idea. I like to think I always remember to do so, but I probably don’t. It’s hard to trace every bit of culture that makes up my own personal culture—the things I believe in, enjoy, and create.

Everything from screaming about your intellectual property rights and threatening lawyers to shrink-wrapping your images online and making them not right-click-able is just burying your head in the sand. An open source world is the one we’ve always lived in: it’s the one we built.

If you want to protect your work from being ripped off online, find some punk way of doing it, because otherwise you’re just joining a system that’s intent on destroying culture.

Gwenn Seemel’s art and Nessa Anthony’s remake
Gwenn Seemel’s art and Nessa Anthony’s remake

On the left is my original painting from a series of portraits of immigrants. On the right is my friend Nessa’s remake of the image. She’s brilliant with Photoshop, and she’s always using her talents to put herself in strange places (visually, I mean). I was flattered that one of my works would earn a Nessa face!

And anyway, we all know that this isn’t Nessa’s image or mine. This Liberty may not be holding a torch, but she still belongs to Frédéric Bartholdi, the man who designed Liberty Enlightening the World, a monument commonly known as the Statue of Liberty.

Then again Bartholdi wasn’t exactly inventing something new either. He was pulling from a lot of old ideas and most notably from the Colossus of Rhodes, an enormous statue that probably held a torch which possibly represented freedom and certainly acted as a beacon for ships arriving at the harbor of Rhodes where the statue stood in the 3rd century BCE. He wanted to represent a version of Columbia (the female personification of the US) influenced by everything from Eugène Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People to the ancient Roman goddess of liberty.

Talk about a mash-up! Bartholdi was so hip-hop.

Is it such a disappointment that culture draws on culture to make new culture? Is it such a surprise? As an artist, I, for one, intend to encourage this sort of thing. It’s what I live for.


December 1, 2013

You can now purchase prints and stickers and t-shirts of my art on Redbubble. I still believe that concentrating on selling live art is important, but I have had to acknowledge that people want to pay me for prints of my art—something that makes me very happy!


May 30, 2018

I’ve written a whole book about questioning copyright, and you can download You Share Good for free. If video is more your thing, my TEDx talk is all about embracing imitation, while this longer talk is about freeing your art and yourself from copyright.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


To receive an email every time I publish a new article or video, sign up for my special mailing list.


If you enjoyed this post, Ko-fi allows you to donate. Every dollar you give is worth a bajillion to me!