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March 6, 2013

Better Blog Series: Copyright Infringement

I wanted to take a moment to discuss a pretty serious topic today on NM: copyright infringement. I've had a couple of people ask if they can reprint my work lately, which surprised me a little at first -- I wasn't quite sure how to handle this kind of question. Last week a bride purchased my Charlottesville map, (a $20 print), and then sent me a message asking permission to photocopy it for her 175 wedding guest bags. Another customer told me she photocopied a card of mine and sends it to family and friends. A woman at a craft show last December took a stack of my business flyers -- with my art on the front -- and told me she was going to put a white sticker over my business info and send them as postcards. I know none of these people mean any harm, but I realized I really need to take charge and protect my artwork a little better moving forward. Because the question is, if these people had the decency to tell me their plans to photocopy/reproduce my artwork, how many people have already photocopied or reproduced it without asking? I have to say, it's pretty disheartening to think about.

One of my friends has had a horrible time concerning this issue -- you can read her post about copyright infringement here. To my knowledge, there aren't any Natty Michelle cards or maps being copied and redistributed on a large scale out there somewhere (yikes!), but it could easily happen if I don't protect myself with a solid copyright.

I've had to stay up late the past couple of nights updating my copyright statement and adding it to every listing in my shop. We're talking over 100 listings, so something like this takes forever. (But it's something I can do while watching Law & Order, so it's really not that bad.) My statement currently reads: "All products feature original artwork by Natalie Crowley Kilgore ©2008 - 2013 Natty Michelle. All rights reserved. Natty Michelle original art and paper products may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form for resale or personal use, including electronically or by photocopying. Please be kind!" In the coming days, I'll be updating all of my card, invitation and print templates to include a basic copyright, too (© Natty Michelle) with this line added: "Do Not Reproduce / All Rights Reserved." Cringe. I know it sounds a little harsh...but it has to happen.

For any of you who work freelance, own a small art or design business or write a blog: I recommend adding a detailed copyright to everything that is your own. There is no such thing as being too repetitive. Add it to your online listings, your header and stamp it on the back of each and every product you sell. If you're a blogger and post another person's photographs of a wedding, home tour, etc. -- credit the photos with the appropriate sources, and always link back to the original post. 

James and I went to the bookstore last Saturday night to see if we could find a solid statement about copyright laws. Up until now, my Etsy listings only included a copyright symbol, my name and the year a product was created. Somewhat stupidly I did not include the copyright on the backs of my cards, invitations or art prints. I've always been a little unsure if I was doing everything I could do to protect myself. According to "The Ultimate Small Business Guide: A Resource for Startups and Growing Businesses" by the  Editors of Perseus Publishing:

"Under U.S. law, copyrighted material available over the Internet will generally be protected in the same way as material in other media. Generally, it is a good idea to mark each page you put on a Web site with the international © mark, followed by the year of publication and the name of the copyright owner. For example, © Ann Smith. You could also include information on your Web site about allowing others to use your copyrighted material without permission." 

From what I understand, copyright laws are pretty simple, especially for artists, designers and bloggers (copyright laws are different concerning words and ideas.) If you have protected yourself by writing a detailed copyright on your site and work, you have taken appropriate measures to protect yourself -- no paperwork necessary. However, if you find that someone has stolen your art, try and settle the dispute on your own first. When that doesn't work, you have to take the person to court. 

In closing, it's so important to be kind when you're shopping for art online or purchasing someone's original work. Give credit where credit is due, and treat others like you would want to be treated. Please remember that artists and designers work so hard on every last piece they create, and it's their work and their's alone. And for many of us, it's our livelihood. Simply put: buying someone's artwork doesn't mean that you are also buying the rights to photocopy it for yourself or for others. Stealing isn't nice. Let's keep the Web a happy place -- a place to share, inspire and build each other up!

If this is a topic you're interested in reading more about, I recommend "The Ultimate Small Business Guide" that I quoted above or "Small Business Kit for Dummies," by Richard D. Harroch. I find both to be great guides for small business owners. 

Thanks for indulging me today, friends! Have a great hump day -- we've almost made it to the weekend! 

(Update: please note that my custom maps are an exception here. I usually give clients the printing rights to these images, 1) to stay competitive in the market and 2) due to the fact that these images are tailored to a specific person or couple, they can't be resold for purchase at a later date.)

Photo of Gary Coleman + Mr. T via AP/NBC TV

1 comment:

  1. First off--That is sad that people don't respect you and your work...but it isn't really surprising. This post is certainly helpful....thank you for posting.


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