Creativity is a beautiful thing. Graphic designers, writers, and web designers are constantly in high demand all across the globe. However, being a professional full-time creative or freelance creative also has its pitfalls.

Copyright infringement is rife in the creative industry. Whether you’re working from the comfort of your home or in a corporate office, you may experience having your work stolen. Moreover, many violations can take place when clients don’t pay for work but continue to publish work anyway. Alternatively, indefensible dealing can happen when intellectual property is sourced directly from freelancer portfolios without permission.

Copyright: Why & What Creatives Should Care About

Copyright Infringement | Tips for Freelancers & Creatives

  • According to PayPal, 58% of creative freelancers have experienced not being paid by a client.
  • When pursuing copyright infringement cases through the court of law, creative people and freelancers can expect to fork out $125 to $500 per hour for legal representation.
  • For the most part, instances of intellectual property theft can be remedied merely by contacting violators and pointing out that a violation has taken place.

The Importance of Using Copyrights for Creatives

Copyright: Why & What Creatives Should Care About

Copyright is a branch of intellectual property law. More specifically, one which protects the creators of digital media, books, articles, art, and music, from having work stolen or used inappropriately. As a creative, if you don’t copyright your work, anyone with access can use or redistribute your work as they please.

In one famous example of what can happen when creatives don’t copyright protect material, South African author Shubnum Khan, posed for a free photo shoot in 2012. Since then, Khan’s image has been used to promote everything from cosmetic dentistry to big-name cosmetics brands.

Sadly, Shubnum never secured rights concerning how her images can be used. In this case, Shubnum has no editorial control over her images and is never remunerated whenever her images are used in any way.

Here’s Where Copyright Infringement Becomes an Issue

Because Shubnum Khan did not copyright protect her images, third-parties who use them do so legally. Copyright infringement, therefore, only takes place when third parties ignore copyright protection which is in place and infringe on the rights of owners and creators of content accordingly.

How Big a Problem is Copyright Infringement?

Copyright: Why & What Creatives Should Care About

It can span from a small problem to a full-blown scale. The costs of pursuing intellectual property claims in court are often prohibitive for freelancers. However, earlier this year a PayPal survey found that 58% of workers have had their creativity undermined by clients who don’t pay. In most cases, freelance customers who don’t pay for work will use material anyway. Worse, many such customers engage in indefensible dealing. This is where work sourced from a designer is sold on to a third party client. (One who is unaware that work has been sourced fraudulently.)

How to Protect Yourself

Copyright infringement has a large impact on those who depend on their creativity to make a living.

  • Infringement and non-payment can play havoc with a creative freelancer’s finances.
  • Not enforcing copyright protection of intellectual property can lead to repeat copyright violations.
  • Repeat violations can have a detrimental impact on a creative person’s brand identity.

Thankfully, there are relatively easy ways to prevent copyright infringement and enforce proper use of intellectual property.

Protecting Your Existing Portfolio

Copyright: Why & What Creatives Should Care About

Freelancers and creatives often use portfolio websites to showcase their work. When publishing examples, creatives should always watermark designs.

  • Branded watermarks can be added to any image using free online programs like Pixlr or Vectr.
  • Video files can be watermarked by inserting credits and branded logos for every video scene.
  • Sound and music files can be watermarked using tools like AG Watermark Generator.
  • When publishing text online, platforms like WordPress can be configured to prevent page visitors from copying and pasting material.

It is also possible (and advisable) to add clear copyright notices to website templates, apps, and other kinds of electronic media. Also, to reduce the risk of non-payment for contracted work, many creatives deliver watermarked files to clients. Only when clients are happy, and payment is secured, do freelancers then provide non-watermarked files and source files.

Someone Is Infringing My Copyright – Now What Do I Do?

By watermarking portfolio samples and deliveries, creatives can safeguard themselves from most common forms of copyright infringement. However, problems with unauthorized use and indefensible dealing can still arise.

  • Creative industry clients may later reverse payment on delivered works.
  • End users of content may start creating and selling unauthorized reproductions of delivered material.
  • Delivered content may later be used in an inappropriate way out with of the terms stipulated before delivery.

For the most part, creatives and freelancers can protect work by carefully specifying how the material can be used by a third-party after delivery. Also, freelancers can safeguard their creativity by not making source files available to end clients. Alternatively, where source files are delivered, creatives can provide specific terms and charge higher commercial license fees.

Tackling Copyright Infringement Without Going Through the Courts

Copyright: Why & What Creatives Should Care About

The easiest way to secure copyright is to prevent copyrighted material from falling into the wrong hands. Sadly, it is impossible to guard against copyright infringement completely. What creatives don’t have to do, though, is immediately start absorbing court and takedown request costs.

In the majority of cases, third-parties purchase copyright infringed content unknowingly from unauthorized distributors of material. In such cases, a freelancer can, therefore, notify publishers and request removal of content. Providing that creatives can provide proof of claims, most publishers will comply with requests.

Safeguarding Intellectual Property Rights Via the Courts

Copyright: Why & What Creatives Should Care About

As a rule, there will always be some copyright violations which can’t be resolved outside of the legal system. In such cases, a freelancer or creative individual can expect to pay per hour for professional legal counsel.

Due to the high cost of representation, freelancers and creatives should always first attempt to send official takedown requests to publishers. If these are ignored, creatives would then be wise to seek out attorneys who charge a ‘contingency fee’ as opposed to fixed hourly rates. Contingency fee representation will see a lawyer take a considerable share of any final settlement. However, most won’t charge per hour and will only be paid in the event of a settlement being secured.

These are our tips on intellectual property and what creatives should care about protecting. Always be sure to protect your own creative works, especially if you’re an independent artist or designer. Get started with our copyright guide for more information about using stock content legally.