15 Ways to Protect Your Artwork From Being Copied

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Kevin Hayler: Professional Wildlife artist, author, and traveler.

It’s the wild west out there and artists are losing out to copycats, theft, and now AI. Images can be copied, altered, and redistributed so easily that it is having a serious impact on artists and creators everywhere. So how do you protect your artwork from being copied? 

While it is impossible to stop determined art thieves, there are still plenty of options open to you to dissuade, deter, and hinder the ability of opportunists and chancers to parasite your hard work. It’s essential that artists, like you and me, take theft and plagiarism seriously and protect our intellectual property. 

Please note that I am not a lawyer and you should always seek professional legal advice. This guide provides advice from one artist to another. It’s my intention to help you to protect your artwork from being copied without your consent in the best way I can. 

Let’s get to it.

Disclaimer: When you buy something via my affiliate links I earn from qualifying purchases and sometimes earn a commission, at no extra cost to you. I am an Amazon Associate among others. I only recommend trusted sites.

1. Add a Copyright Symbol or Notice

Listen up, you have exclusive rights to your own artwork and the very least you can do is remind the viewer on every online image. Add a copyright symbol or notice to affirm your legal rights. 

A copyright notice typically includes the copyright symbol (©), the year of creation, and the creator’s name. For example: “© 2023 Your Name”.

Personally, I don’t include the year on my images, I can’t organize myself enough to keep track of the year I made everything. I have proof and that matters most. 

I like to incorporate the copyright symbol into my artwork image, placing it in the bottom right-hand corner if possible, and if not, on the left side. As long as it stands out against the background, it doesn’t really matter.

I think it looks better when it appears much like a signature, and I usually sign my art on the bottom right. 

This makes it clear that you are the rightful owner and that the work is protected by copyright law.

There are many ways to add a copyright notice to your image. One free and easy-to-use tool is Canva. With Canva, you can upload your image to a custom size canvas and add text overlays, including a copyright symbol.

To find the copyright symbol (©), you can simply copy it from this guide, or search for “copyright symbol” online. If you’re on a PC, you can also use the keyboard shortcut ALT + 0169, although I have tried that on mine and it didn’t work for me. If you’re using a Mac, the shortcut is Option + G.

Give it a go, or copy and paste it as I do. 

A copyright notice will not prevent all instances of theft, it serves as a deterrent and certainly helps if you ever need to take legal action. It’s a simple, straightforward way to assert your rights as an artist.

Read this important post: Can You Copy Art and Sell a Painting of a Painting? I Found Out

A pencil drawing of a lion with a copyright symbol by Kevin Hayler
“Lion Country” A pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler

2. Upload Low-Resolution Images

Upload low-resolution images, This is the most straightforward and effective way to protect your artwork from being copied. When you upload high-resolution images, you essentially give potential thieves a high-quality version of your work that they can easily duplicate or misuse.

Images are typically measured in dots per inch (DPI). A higher DPI means more detail and clarity, 300 DPI is typically used for high-quality printing. Lower-resolution images, typically 72 DPI, are used for screen viewing. These lower DPI images are useless for printing and enlarging them will result in an unacceptable loss of quality.

Using low-resolution images has the added benefit of optimizing your website’s page speed. Large, high-resolution images can slow down your page load times, which can negatively impact your site’s SEO and the overall user experience. 

However, it’s important to strike a balance between low resolution and presenting a quality image. Your artwork still needs to look good to potential customers or gallery owners who may be browsing your site.

As such, you need to find the optimal resolution that maintains the aesthetics of your work without inviting theft. It’s a judgment call. 

One helpful tool for this task is the ShortPixel plugin, which can automatically optimize your images’ resolutions without a noticeable loss in quality. With such tools, you can protect your art, keep your website running smoothly, and still present your work in the best possible light.

They also have anwhich is very handy. 

3. Use Small Images

Keep your image sizes on the small side. This means limiting the number of pixels in the image’s width and height. A common size for web images is around 600-800 pixels on the longest side. Most of my images are around this size. 

If someone tries to enlarge a small image they’re likely to encounter pixelation. Pixelation is the distortion that occurs when an image is scaled up, causing it to become blurry and lose detail.

Pixilation becomes visibly noticeable when an image is enlarged beyond its original size, and this loss in quality will act as a deterrent for anyone attempting to reproduce or misuse your artwork.

4. Consider Cropping Your Images

If you’re seeking to present the finer qualities and subtleties of a piece of art without the risks inherent in uploading a large file, consider using a cropped image and revealing a smaller portion.

Displaying a selected high-resolution crop of your work of art will highlight the intricate details and textures in your art that would otherwise be lost on the web. It will give your viewer a better understanding of the high quality art they can expect from you. 

Of course, be aware that even cropped sections of your artwork can be copied, so choose your crops wisely. Opt for areas that are representative of your work’s quality but not the most distinctive part of your artwork. 

This post is related to cropping: How to Plan and Compose Your Art: A Beginners Guide

Using portions of images can be a strategic way to balance the necessity of presenting your artwork attractively and professionally, with the need to protect your creative works. It’s about showcasing your skills and style while keeping control of the imagery.

5. Use a Watermark

A lot of artists opt to add a watermark to their works of art to deter potential thieves. A watermark is typically a semi-transparent text or logo placed over an image to indicate the image’s ownership. Typically, you would use your name, business name, or logo as your watermark.

There are both pros and cons to using watermarks. On the positive side, a watermark can act as a strong deterrent for would-be thieves, as removing a well-placed watermark can be difficult and time-consuming.

It can also serve as a form of branding, subtly promoting your name or your business each time your image is viewed. 

If you’re looking for watermark inspiration, check out how stock photo libraries like or use them.

On the downside, a watermark may detract from the image’s visual appeal if not used carefully. It’s important to strike a balance between making the watermark visible enough to deter theft and subtle enough not to distract from the artwork itself.

I have opted not to use a watermark over my images because I think they are too intrusive. You must decide what’s best for you. 

To add a watermark with Canva:

  1. Upload your image to .
  2. Click on “Text” to add a new text box.
  3. Type in your watermark (e.g., your name or business name).
  4. Adjust the font, size, color, and transparency to your liking. It’s best to keep the watermark subtle, so consider lowering the transparency and choosing a color that blends with your image.
  5. Click and drag the text box to position your watermark. 
  6. Download as a PNG

Did you know that first-time buyers on Udemy get a massive discount? Learn Canva

Canva Master course with Ronny Hermosa on Udemy

A PNG file is lossless and it will need to be compressed before uploading it to the web. Use TinyPNG or Shortpixel. Depending on the complexity of your image, your compression might still be too large. Anything over 100 KB is too big. Convert it to JPG for a smaller file.

While watermarks can deter casual art theft, they can’t stop more determined thieves with the tools and knowledge to remove them. Use them in combination with other deterrents.

6. Be Easy to Contact

If people can easily reach out to you, they are more likely to ask for permission to use your image rather than take it. While most people who reach out will want your work in return for ‘exposure’, some will be happy to get real and pay a fee. 

Provide clear contact information on your website and social media platforms. This gives you control over how your artwork is used and provides an opportunity to professionally license your images, a potentially valuable source of income.

If you need some help with licensing and what it’s all about, this is a popular course by Alison Cole on Domestika

I wrote this post about licensing: How to License Your Art: Best Guide For Beginners

Another important reason why you should be easily contacted is to allow your followers and fans to inform you of any possible copyright infringements they come across. This has happened to me a number of times over the years.

The online world is vast, and it’s practically impossible to monitor every corner of it yourself. Having a network of supportive fans who are happy to alert you to potential problems is another one of those protective measures you can utilize. Why not?

Ensure your contact information or contact link is visible on every page of your website. On social media platforms, make sure your direct message (DM) options are open and check them regularly.

In the battle against artwork theft, communication is a powerful tool. By making yourself easily accessible, you’re setting the stage for potential business opportunities, and swift action against copyright abuse.

7. Act Quickly Against Copyright Theft

If your artwork has been copied or misused, you must take prompt action. While it may feel daunting, there are clear steps you can take to address the problem. Keep a cool head and do the following:

  1. Start with a Polite Notice: Your first step should be to contact the person or business who has misused your work. Send a polite but firm message stating that they are using your artwork without permission. Ask them to remove the image, or if the image is available for commercial purposes, offer to license the image.
    This will normally resolve the issue quickly. Don’t get mad, people may be unaware of copyright laws and indeed, might have purchased your image in good faith elsewhere. Follow up on any leads if this is the case.
  2. Reach Out to the Hosting Platform: If the person who has taken your work cannot be contacted or fails to respond, consider reaching out to the platform hosting the work. Most platforms have policies against copyright infringement and can take action to remove the offending content.
    Be sure to provide as much detail as possible and include proof of your ownership, such as original files, drafts, or any other evidence that demonstrates your ownership of the artwork.
  3. Send a Cease and Desist Notice: If your initial requests are ignored, you may need to escalate by sending a cease and desist letter, which is a document warning the individual to stop violating your copyright or face legal action.
    You can draft a cease and desist letter yourself there are many templates online, or, if you have the resources, have a lawyer draft one for you.

Always remain professional throughout this process. While it’s frustrating to find your work being misused, it is rarely more than a nuisance.

8. Disable the Right-Click Save Function

Disabling the right-click function on your own website is a practical measure you can take to make it harder for people to copy your images. By disabling right-click, you prevent the context menu from appearing, which includes options to “Save Image As” or “Copy Image”. 

This small inconvenience is enough to deter casual browsers from downloading your images.

To disable the right-click function, you typically need to add a snippet of JavaScript to your website’s code. If you’re using WordPress, there are plugins available, such as WP Content Copy Protection & No Right Click, that can disable right-click for you.

Of course, determined art thieves can take a screenshot of your image instead. You can’t stop that, and while this does result in a copy of your image, the resolution of a screenshot is typically much lower than the original. The image will not be good enough to print. 

While not foolproof, disabling right-click is another deterrent to casual image theft, making it one more tool in your arsenal to protect the copyright of your artwork.

9. Tag Your Artwork

Adding metadata or “tags” to your images is another method to assert your ownership. Metadata is information embedded in an image file that can include details such as the creator’s name, contact information, copyright notices, and even location data.

When you tag your artwork, you’re essentially embedding your signature within the image file itself. Even if the image is copied or saved, this data generally stays with the image, reinforcing your claim of ownership.

This can be particularly useful if you need to prove that an image is yours, as the metadata provides clear evidence of your copyright.

You can add metadata to your images using various software, such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom.

Here’s a general way to do this:

  1. Open your image in your chosen software.
  2. Look for an option like “File Info”, “Properties”, or “Metadata” in the menu. This will vary depending on the software.
  3. In the dialog box that opens, you can add your information, such as your name, copyright notice, and contact details.

In addition to aiding in copyright protection, tagging your images also has SEO benefits. Including descriptive keywords in your tags can improve your images’ visibility in search engine results, driving more traffic to your site.

Keep in mind, though, like other protection measures, tagging isn’t 100% foolproof. Some websites automatically strip metadata from images to save space. However, it’s a quick and simple step that adds another layer of protection to your artwork.

10. Add Disclosures and Friendly Reminders

Consider adding a copyright disclosure or reminder in a visible location of your website, such as the footer or on your gallery pages. This disclosure could state that all artwork is your original work, is protected by copyright law, and may not be used or reproduced without your explicit permission. 

On social media platforms, you can occasionally remind your followers about your copyright in your posts or image captions. A simple statement like, “I love sharing my artwork with all of you, but please remember that it’s copyrighted and may not be used without my permission,” or words to that effect.

These messages shouldn’t come across as hostile or threatening in any way, you don’t want to deter potential fans or customers. Instead, aim for a tone that’s professional and informative, yet respectful.

Most people appreciate the rights of creators and will understand your open and friendly communication.

11. Be Careful Where You Post

Some platforms are friendlier than others when it comes to protecting creators. Some platforms attract users who are more likely to take a chance and plagiarise, while others have more robust systems in place to prevent and deal with copyright infringement.

Unfortunately, popular sites like Etsy and Redbubble attract copycats. Platforms like these might state that they do not tolerate copyright abuse but the reality on the ground is there for all to see. Users are encouraged to piggyback on successful creators with winning designs and take some of the pie.  

These posts explain more:

Follow any tutorial and they all follow the same path. Find a less competitive niche with volume and do something very similar to the best sellers. They never suggest ‘copying’ but the route to success is implicit.

Many so-called creators will ignore guidelines and rip off the original creators without shame or penalty.  

As an artist, it’s important to know this risk. With the advent of AI, anyone, without a scintilla of talent, can scrape your art and produce instant derivatives at the click of a mouse. Food for thought.

Before posting your work on any platform, familiarize yourself with the platform’s copyright policies. Do they take infringement seriously? How do they handle copyright complaints? Do they have proactive measures in place to detect and deter copying?

Do your homework and never just assume that anyone has your best interests at heart.

Having said all this, there are social media sites that can be beneficial for marketing your artwork. Sharing images of your work, on Pinterest for example, can help you reach a wider audience and drive traffic to your website or online store.

This will interest you: Social Media For Artists: The Best 13 Platforms for Creatives

However, even on these platforms, it’s essential to follow best practices for protecting your work, such as adding watermarks, using copyright notices, and being proactive in monitoring and reporting potential infringements.

In the end, where you choose to share your work is a balancing act between exposure, sales potential, and risk of theft. 

12. Look for Your Images Online

One of the most effective ways to protect your artwork is by actively monitoring its online presence. Searching for your images online will help you to detect possible infringements. 

Here’s how you can go about it:

Google Lens: Google offers a free tool to replace the old Google reverse image search. It can be used in the Chrome browser or on your Android device.

To use Google Lens in Chrome on your desktop follow these simple steps:

  • Open a page in Chrome.
  • Right-click on an image.
  • In the menu, choose “Search image with Google”

Using Google Lens on your phone:

  • Go to Google Images on your phone
  • Select the image you want to find
  • Tap the Google Lens button at the top right
  • You can find any related images and contextual information

TinEye is a reverse image search engine that can find where your images are being used online. While the basic service is free, they also offer more advanced paid services that can automatically monitor your images and notify you of any new instances where they are used. It is available for Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Opera.

Search by Image is a free open-source extension compatible with 30 search engines. It is popular with photographers and artists who want to know how their work is shared on the web.

13. Copyright Your Artwork

Copyright laws vary from country to country, but a common principle is that artists automatically own the rights to their original works as soon as they are created. In other words, copyright registration is not mandatory.

In general, you, as the creator and copyright holder, have the exclusive right to use and distribute your own work. This includes the rights to any derivative works.

Derivatives are works based on or derived from your original artwork. This means that no one can use, reproduce, or create derivative works from your artwork without your permission.

The main challenge with copyright law is proving authorship. If there’s a dispute over an artwork, you’ll need proof that you are the original creator. This can be in the form of sketches, drafts, or digital files with timestamps.

Keeping well-organized records of your work process can only help you to prove and enforce your copyright.

Erica has one of the very few courses I have found concerning intellectual property. Domestika is free to join and the courses are very affordable

Although registering your copyright is not a legal requirement in most jurisdictions, there are advantages. When you register your copyright, you’ll receive a public record that you are the official copyright owner, this will be very helpful should you ever have a legal dispute.

In the US, registration also enables you to claim attorney fees in a lawsuit.

To register your copyright, you typically need to submit an application to the official copyright office in your country, along with a copy of the work and the fees applicable. The process and fees can vary, so it’s important to check the specifics for your country.

14. Use The Small Claims Court (US)

The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act, enacted on December 27, 2020, in the United States, established the Copyright Claims Board, a small claims-style forum within the U.S. Copyright Office.

This is a significant development for creators, including artists, as it provides an alternative to costly federal lawsuits for copyright infringement claims.

Previously, legal costs could make it prohibitive for independent artists to defend their copyright in court. The CASE Act aims to rectify this by providing a more accessible and affordable legal avenue for these artists.

Under the CASE Act, statutory damages awarded by the Copyright Claims Board are capped at under $30,000 in total. More than sufficient for most claimants. 

This amendment provides artists with more scope to protect their artwork from copyright infringements. However, please check and verify this information, as I said earlier, I’m not a lawyer, this is only the general advice I have researched online.

It’s always a good idea to speak with a legal professional to understand your best course of action.

15. Hire a Lawyer

Hiring a lawyer is considered the “nuclear option” in the fight against copyright infringement. It’s a step not to be taken lightly due to its potential costs and the complexity of legal proceedings.

If you’ve registered your copyright, if an infringement caused significant damage, or if you’ve exhausted all other options, hiring a lawyer and pursuing legal action might be feasible for some creators. Lawyers who specialize in copyright law can provide advice tailored to your situation.

However, it’s important to note that without a registered copyright you could end up paying substantial legal fees, even if you win your case.

In reality, few independent artists will have the resources to pursue a claim through the courts in this manner. Taking proactive measures to protect your artwork, such as those discussed earlier in this article, can help prevent infringement and avoid the need for legal action.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about copyright and artwork:

How Much Do You Have to Change an Artwork to Avoid Copyright?

There is a common misconception that changing a certain percentage of a copyrighted artwork makes it a new, original piece, but this is not legally accurate. Copyright law generally doesn’t specify a certain amount that a work must be changed to avoid infringement. 

Instead, it considers whether the new work is substantially similar to the original. If it’s clear that the new work is based on a copyrighted piece, it can be considered an infringement, even if there are significant changes.

This is such a grey area in law because infringement is not always clear and the similarities are subjective and open to interpretation, it can be very hard to prove that your work has been copied. A claim that another artist has appropriated your signature style will not be sufficient.

Can You Prevent Ai From Stealing Your Art?

As I write this, it looks like the ‘art scraping’ companies are going to win the court cases attempting to preven their parasitic technology from bearing any responsibility. So what can you do?

I recently came across this video. It might interest you.

What Does “Fair Use” Mean?

Fair Use is a doctrine in United States copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders. It is often referred to as “fair dealing” in the UK. It provides for the legal use of copyrighted material in another author’s work under certain circumstances.

Essentially Fair Use applies to commentary, criticism, and parody. Fair Use permits the use of copyrighted material for educational purposes and to inform. It is strictly non-commercial.

How Long Does Copyright Last?

This varies from country to country. In the US, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work or work made for hire, the copyright lasts for 95 years from the year of its first publication or 120 years from the year of its creation.

There are other clauses but one way of finding copyright images in the public domain is to search on Wikimedia Commons

Do You Own The Art Taught in a Tutorial?

A work of art copied or recreated directly from a tutorial is the tutor’s copyright. However, you own the rights to any image you create as a result of learning the techniques or style taught in the tutorial. In other words, copying the tutor’s work cannot be reproduced, using their knowledge to create a unique work is perfectly fine.

Protect Your Artwork From Being Copied: Final Thoughts

Protecting your artwork from unauthorized use is becoming increasingly difficult. As AI advances it is becoming almost impossible to stop people from stealing your artwork. Anyone can use your art to manufacture a similar image with no talent or artistic aptitude required. 

Our artwork is being scraped without permission to feed the algorithms that reconstruct ‘fake art’ They are nothing more than a sophisticated montage.

All is not lost, court cases are in progress challenging these platforms, and as someone who owns a marketing agency pointed out to me, AI art is beginning to parasite itself and produce a generic AI style. I had to laugh. May it only get worse!

In the meantime, don’t get too paranoid, I’ve had my work stolen plenty of times and it has never resulted in a loss of income. Admittedly I don’t post designs on many 3rd party platforms, if I did I might be singing a different tune. 

Follow some of the suggestions in this post and you will protect yourself from casual thoughtless theft, and most people who get caught will back down immediately. 

Don’t worry too much.

This is how I made a living for over 20 years. You can too, simply copy what I did – No hidden secrets

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Ways to protect your artwork from being copied
The artist and Author Kevin Hayler

Hi, my name’s Kevin and I’m a real person!
I’ve been selling my wildlife art and traveling the world for over 20 years, and if that sounds too good to be true, I’ve done it all without social media, art school, or galleries!
I can show you how to do it. You’ll find a wealth of info on my site, about selling art, drawing tips, lifestyle, reviews, travel, my portfolio, and more. Enjoy

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