Copyright is Not the Problem, You Are!

Copyright is Not the Problem, You Are!

by: Cory Huff

Pinterest is upon us!

For some reason, the Internet decided to throw a giant fit over copyright over the last few weeks. It started (sort’ve) with this interesting blog post by a lawyer who tearfully deleted her Pinterest inspiration boards. Her post spread like wildfire, got picked up by a whole bunch of major blogs, and even garnered a personal response from the founder of Pinterest. Of course, her post isn’t the only one. There have been hundreds of articles written about Pinterest’s copyright issues.

Here’s the thing – this issue is not new. Pinterest is just the latest round of copyright and privacy issues on the Internet. The same thing has happened with Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, various blogs, and other online media. Remember burning CDs? My favorite example, however…

The Music Industry

In 1999, Napster rocked the music world by becoming the first highly successful file sharing site. Millions of people began using Napster to share files, and some of them were using Napster to illegally swap music. The music industry leaders freaked out and spent millions of dollars going after individuals who downloaded music, making examaples out of them. This led to countless ridiculous stories about children and elderly women being imprisoned and slapped with terrifyingly high fines.

This did nothing to curb the decline of the music industry. People continued to download music and share files with each other. The music industry spent millions more lobbying and got the Digital Millenium Copyright Act passed. Suddenly small websites were getting nailed for doing innocuous things like linking to another website that was illegally hosting a copy written song. It’s still going on, and it’s a legal nightmare.

In the mean while, along comes Steve Jobs and Apple. This next part is really important, so pay attention. It’s detailed in Jobs’ biography, and it’s just fascinating. While the music industry was busy arguing about who was at fault for declining revenues, and suing everyone, Apple invented iTunes and stole everyone’s lunch money. They found a way to get people to pay for what they had been doing illegally. While the music labels said it couldn’t be done, Apple went out and did it. They were looking for a solution, not a problem.

Copyright Will Not Make Your Career

Here’s the part where I explain why I’m talking about the music industry. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the art world is in a very similar place to where the music industry was back in 1999.

People are sharing images online – without your permission. It’s happening, whether you like it or not. Sure, it would be great if you could stop anyone who tries from profiting off of your work – but that’s not my point here.

There are some artists who don’t even worry about copyright. Check out painter Gwenn Seemel’s take on art careers without copyright law.

Sharing is What Makes the Internet Work

The Web gave people the ability to share images easily. That’s why there are thousands of image sharing sites like Flickr and SmugMug. People want to share images that excite and motivate them. Sharing is how the internet works. We link to things that we find interesting. We talk about it on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites. Personally, it’s one of the best things about the Web.

If I can find a piece of art that I like, I don’t just bookmark it. I want to subscribe to their blog, follow them on Twitter, and tell everyone else about their work. If the artist is smart, they’ve added some sharing buttons to each of their individual pieces. This is how people build buzz about what they do. It’s how the Internet has changed things.

Where’s the Disruption?

You can protect your work if it’s that important. Add a watermark to your images. Reduce the resolution to 75 dpi. But don’t disable right clicks. That’s just annoying (and you can just take a screenshot anyway).

There are several companies that are doing very innovative things with art on the Internet. is interesting. ArtSumo is surfacing art from obscure places. Artsicle lets you try art in your home before you buy it.

Technology is not the only way to disrupt a market. You can change the way that you sell art. One of the early bands to recognize the change in the way that that the music business was heading is Radiohead. They began offering their music as a pay what you will download from their own website. They did an end run around their music label and it worked.

What will you do? Can you start selling directly to collectors? Will you find an innovative way to offer prints? Build your own social networks built around your art?

I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

Image courtesy of Horia Varlan

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About the Author

Cory Huff runs, where he teaches artists how to sell art online and dispel the myth of the starving artist.

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