Copyright for designers
In the UK, copyright protection is granted automatically when you create something. This is stated clearly on the UK government website. There’s no need to pay to register it (although that is something you can do); the copyright of your designs and artwork is yours by right.
Through various agreements, this copyright extends to other countries, including China.
As a designer you’ll likely have a trail of evidence to prove the work is yours if you need to. Rough sketches aren’t dated, but they are evidence to show the design is your creation. Anything digital has a time-stamp – that includes working files on your PC, as well as any emails, tweets and Instagram posts.
In my case I also had orders from customers, documented and dated, from both my own online shop and Etsy, where there are also reviews from customers, with dates. There are articles about the Alpacalypse on third party blogs and magazines. Thanks to YouTube, I even have videos showing the T-shirts and hoodies on my booth at comic con, with publication dates. You can clearly see me wearing an Alpacalypse hoodie in a vlog from an alpaca show.
If you’re public about your work and active with self promotion – which you have to be, if you’re selling online or touting for work – you’ll likely have a whole digital trail behind you.
What to do if this happens to you
If you spot your work on a print-on-demand merchandise site, you can report it through the store. All the print-on-demand sites I dealt with had links or forms to report copyright infringement. Some even have “Report this” links on each product as standard, which is an indication of how common this issue is.
Reporting involves involves filling in forms and providing links as evidence to show that the design belongs to you. In most cases, a link to the product in my shop was sufficient. For AliExpress, the process was lengthy: I had to register with their online IP portal, which involved uploading a photo of my passport, then registering the design as my property, with proof and dates of when it was first created, published and sold. Once that’s approved, you can finally register a complaint against the counterfeit product.
To their credit, all the print-on-demand sites dealt with my complaints very quickly and efficiently. Most of the products were removed within a day, and after 48 hours there were none remaining.
However, the fact remains that filling in forms and getting proof together is a lengthy process. As a small business owner or freelancer, that’s time you don’t necessarily have. Larger brands and companies have whole legal departments to deal with these problems.
So now, do I have to search the internet periodically to check if any of my designs have been stolen? Is that something I have to add into my weekly to do list?
Print-on-demand sites and copyright
Print-on-demand sites are ideal platforms for anyone who wants to profit from stolen artwork. Users can upload as many designs as they wish, and wait for the orders to roll in. Unlike when you produce your own merchandise, there’s no upfront investment and no financial risk. Many of the sellers that had stolen my designs had shops filled with T-shirts in so many different styles that they must have been stolen from other people. Many of the designs were clearly clipart or cringe-worthy, cheap slogans, with very little care taken over them.
Obviously it’s not the fault of the print-on-demand portals, who sent me copy and paste apologies and disclaimers saying they’re not liable for the actions of their users. Anyone can register and upload any designs they like. They simply have to tick a box saying they hold the copyright – but if you’re the kind of person who steals art you’re probably not going to have scruples about lying on an online form.
Copyright infringement of indie designers is clearly an issue. Your work has to be online in order to promote yourself – we wouldn’t be able to get work or sell products if it wasn’t. Even if you watermark art you post online, Photoshop can do anything. It’s so easy to be a victim of design theft without even knowing.
All imagery in this story is courtesy of Amy Crabtree
The Who asked, poignantly, “Who the fuck are you?“ And the answer is overwhelmingly that you are pieces of data collected and maintained by the world’s wealthiest companies.
In a recent post on BBC’s Futures “The Online Data That’s Being Deleted,” Chris Baraniuk discusses the consequences of a digital catastrophe. He focuses on a recently published book by Susan Donovan: New York City Hypogeographies. The premise? In 2250, electrical pulses wipe most data from our servers. All hell breaks loose. I highly recommend the read.
Information wants to be free.
The quote is attributed to Stewart Brand, publisher of The Whole Earth Catalogue. There is a second line to that edict: “Information also wants to be expensive.” And it is. We may think nothing of snapping away at blurry ceiling fans and cute kittens and what we’re eating without thinking of the real cost. Well, there are very real costs.
The BBC reports that bitcoin mining (data) uses “more electricity than the country of Argentina.” To be precise, this much:
Critics of crypto mining, including dogecoin fan and Tesla (bad for the environment because of the massive amount of energy consumed. Mining farms in China have been scrutinized in particular, and the Chinese government has since cracked down on the practice.) CEO Elon Musk, have slammed the practice for being
Deciding which data needs to be preserved is a subjective exercise. What do you pick? And why? What importance does 10 Gbs of (adorable and cute-for-days) images of my dog have? And at what cost? as an example, this site contains 8+ Gbs. We tend to think that this costs nothing. But it does. Data-centric companies rely on an endless stream of independently created data. So we rush about our day creating it, for free, so that they may resell it. Kinda fucking brilliant.
As an ecommerce retailer, it’s important to understand that more is not necessarily better. I’ve written before about the importance of curation. Selectively, critically and mindfully choosing the information you present has far greater value than simply vomiting into peoples’ laptops. You’re not Amazon and you will never be Amazon, so act smarter.
cgk.ink works with businesses to narrow their focus and pinpoint opportunities. Let’s talk to see how this might benefit you.