Every designer is cautious about putting their work on the internet, and for good reason too. The web is a haven for many faceless crimes like artistic theft. It is unfortunate to spend all that time and creativity developing the perfect element only to see someone else profiting from it without sharing the proceeds- or at least crediting you for originality.
That said, you cannot be a 21st century designer without publishing your work on the net. We are currently in the golden age of content, right? You will be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t share your designs online for potential clients to see. Besides, you can’t be a web designer and not design on websites.
This catch 22 situation plagues many good web designers daily. But is it a hopeless case? No. In this article, we shall be discussing how you can make your work theft-proof on the internet. But before we proceed, let us examine a few concepts associated with content sharing on the internet.
The difference between stealing and drawing inspiration
True, many so-called original designs are from previously conceived ideas that were re-imagined. Most artists usually start their speech with, “I drew my inspiration from…”. There is a saying in Hollywood that everything has been done before, and nothing is original. This especially makes the line between stealing and inspiration very thin.
While one (inspiration) is formed from genuine intentions, the other (stealing) is done with intent to deceive and obtain credit under false pretences. You can use a creative element to develop your work- perhaps enhance it further into something more valuable. This is completely legal. But where the whole piece is lifted verbatim and passed as original, then there is a problem.
The argument is still on that anything online is fair game. While many people re-post and reuse graphic images innocently, others are aware of their actions and couldn’t be bothered. As a web designer both ways can have a disadvantage to your creativity and even leave you demotivated at times. Unfortunately, if you do not have the budget or lawyers like Netflix, a legal battle will wear you out.
To safeguard your precious designs from opportunists, here are some effective best practices you can use. Though they are not completely failsafe, they are worth trying.
1. Copyright disclaimers
If you have a website where you publish your works, put a bold copyright notice or “all right reserved” in a visible section of the landing page. Follow it up with a statement detailing how illegal it is to lift any part of your work. While it may not deter the most determined, it will inform those who are ignorant about copyright laws and probably scare them from stealing your content.
Think of it like that ominous warning at a zoo, “Beware of trespassing. Trespassers will be eaten.” Even though they may not actually be punished, they will be afraid to proceed.
2. Use watermarks
“This is one of my favourites, perhaps because it is easy to add on,” says Brendan Wilde, Digital Marketing head at Discount Domain Names. “It doesn’t only discourage thieves, but if people go ahead and share or reuse your work, they will be promoting it too. It is understandable that most designers don’t like to ‘blemish’ their work with a watermark, but a good number deem it effective to use one. Others prefer a tiny moniker or symbol at the bottom right of the design.”
Google image search can help you discover if your designs have been used elsewhere. Another effective tool is Copyscape which is great for assessing duplicated content.
3. Use licensing to take control
There are copyright laws that protect creative designs posted online. They also prevent them from being distributed. When you use Google images, you will often see a warning under an image, “Subject to copyright protection”.
Although these warnings are clearly stated, it doesn’t stop artistic theft. You know how stressing it can be chasing after individuals who steal your work. To reduce this and gain control of their creations, many designers allow people to use their work under their own terms. This is commonly known as “licensing.”
With licensing, you can avail your designs to the public and control its distribution. Thieves are usually discouraged by such terms and agreements that they would rather go to other websites without licensing policies.
The plus-side of licensing
As the owner of a copyright, you can take charge of how your designs are used and distributed. Some licenses permit the wide use of a content if the originator is credited. Others observe instil a strict rule on copied and derivative materials.
The six licensing types
One of the most popular licensing organisations online is Creative Commons. It offers 6 types of licensing conditions content creators can allow on its platform. If you opt to protect your designs with a license, you still own the copyright but people can use them on your own terms.
Attribution is quite straightforward. This license permits people to use your creative designs and distribute them provided you receive credit as the author. This usually works for up and coming designers.
2. Non-commercial attribution
This license allows third-parties to use your work, possibly create derivatives, but never for commercial purposes. They must also accord credit to you as originator.
3. Attribution share-alike
People who use or remodify your designs for commercial intentions must acknowledge you as the owner and all derivatives will bear a similar license too.
4. Attribution Non-derivatives
The attribution non-derivatives license means you allow people use and distribute your creative work, but without altering it in any way. The images and graphics must be shared “as is”.
5. Attribution Non-commercial Share-alike
This license is like the attribution share-alike. But the difference is the works are not to be re-used for commercial purposes.
6. Attribution Non-commercial No-derivatives
If you are very particular about your designs, and prefer stricter terms and conditions, then this is a suitable option for you. It bars people from re-producing your work for commercial use. They can also download and share the graphic if they acknowledge you, however, they cannot change them.
Depending on your preferences or standing as a web designer, you should find any of these licenses suitable for your work. Ensure you make it visible on your site for all to see.