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What Happens When Someone Jacks Your Swag?

Musicians aren't the only ones who have to deal with piracy, this'll make your head explode with righteous fury.

Two websites were ripping artists' work off of their DeviantArt websites and reselling them on canvas for hundreds of dollars a painting, giving no money back to the artists. The offending website even bragged about how much it was "helping artists.'

The same thing happened recently to a group of graphic designers as well. (My favorite part is where they point out the scammers trying to re-sell the Time Warner Cable logo. Wow.)

This is heinous. 
What can we do?

A) Was DRM right? Is the only way forward to continuously develop new ways to manage access to our art?
Not quite.

Treating your fans as criminals by default might discourage the occasional theft but it comes at the cost of punishing people who legitimately purchased your music. Even control-loving Apple had to relent on pushing DRM through iTunes when the customer outcry grew too strong.

There will always be pirates and there will always be paying customers.

Guilty until proven innocent? Or innocent until proven guilty? (aka Type 1 or Type II errors)

Who will you favor?
B) Patrol the web ourselves looking for signs of our work being stolen? Maybe hire interns? Lawyers?

The probability of this time/money investment paying off is slim. The internet, like the universe, is infinite. You could search 24 hours a day and still miss infringements. Launching satellites into the unknown is for NASA. You're a musician, you should be creating music!

As I said previously, people can steal your songs but they can't steal your brain. Longevity as a musician comes from consistently producing great work.

That being said, however, TinEye is an awesome reverse image search that is a great tool for finding people using your images. An occasional check on TinEye would be a good idea to check and see where your visual arts are being used.
C) Give up?


D) Copyright your work?

If you're worried about someone stealing your work, copyright it. This won't really stop a pirate, but it gives you recourse should you discover someone stealing your work.

Under US law you automatically own the copyright to any work of art/music you produce as soon as it is recorded in a tangible form, like a recording or sheet music. However, actual time of creation is difficult to establish in court as it essentially would come down to both parties saying they created the work first.

Thankfully, around $35 you can get a Performance Right (PR) and Sound Recording (SR) copyright to your music through the US Copyright Office. Any question of ownership is solved and should you need to take the claim to court you'll stand a good chance of winning sweet cash money from whomever is stealing your goodies. (note: I'm not a lawyer, but this is my understanding of the basics)

Copyrighting songs isn't perfect by any means, but it's cheap, effective, and simple enough to be well worth the effort.


Back to the top story, the group of aggrieved artists is filing a class-action lawsuit against the website. With the help of copyright and strength in numbers, these artists will probably prevail. At the time of writing, the offending websites were down.

Right on.

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