Protect Design Work on the Internet

As a web/graphic designer, it can be disheartening and frustrating to see your work published without ever receiving the notoriety from it. Those images and designs are your babies and they deserve proper respect and attribution, not to mention stealing them is a direct violation of copyright law.

What do you do when you notice someone stealing your work?

Fighting copyright issues can turn into a huge mess. Thankfully, simple communication can thwart a potential battle, especially if the offender was unaware of copyright laws. However, in other more serious cases, designers will simply throw in the towel due to a lack of money and resources to fight.

Protect Your Work

Do you have a team of legal experts ready to prosecute people who steal your work?

Unless you have the budget of Amazon.com, this is not a likely scenario. Most freelance web designers do not have thousands of dollars to spend on legal assistance should anyone steal their content, so they must devise ways to protect their work and prevent it from misuse.

There are many actions you can take to protect your work online. While not all will be 100% successful, they will definitely tip the scales in your favor.

Consider posting a notice of copyright or “all rights reserved” on your website where visitors can see it along with a statement describing the illegal nature of stealing your work. It may not stop every perpetrator, but it will notify those who are unaware of copyright laws about stealing content and also scare others into submission. It’s similar to posting an alarm sign in front of your house to deter thieves from entering. Even if you don’t have an actual alarm system, the thought of possibly getting caught is enough to deter them.

 Watermarks are a good deterrent and can prevent people from stealing your images. Designers typically do not like changing the look of their designs with watermarks, but many feel they are the best deterrent to theft. Some resort to a small signature and website logo on the bottom of the design as well.

1. Do you want to allow people to use your work for commercial purposes?

The definitions for commercial vs. non-commercial are still somewhat confusing. The technical term for “commercial” involves using images for the purpose of selling or to gain profit. Non-commercial refers to using images for personal use and not to gain profit.

The definition becomes ambiguous when a publisher wants to use an image for his blog that includes advertisements. Is the image used to draw in revenue? Some would say “yes” since it is part of the blog and the blog contains advertisements, which relates to commercial usage. Others would argue that the image isn’t directly involved in any for-profit activity and is, therefore, noncommercial usage. The jury is still out on this one and Creative Commons is actively taking surveys on the subject to further define the terms.

If you do not want your images used by companies seeking to gain profit from them, stick to the non-commercial licenses.

2. Do you want to allow people to create derivative works?

A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”.

The derivative work is a piece created from the original. If you want to maintain your original graphic and keep the image unchanged as it is copied, choose the NoDerivs licenses.

Creative Commons has this helpful License Chooser which will also supply you with code to put on your website. Here are some tips you should know before licensing your work.