Protecting Your Work Online

16th February 2017
3 min read
16th September 2020

We live in an era where to show your work to others leaves artworks, images and photographs vulnerable to unauthorised use. It is a myth to believe that just because an image appears somewhere on the World Wide Web that somehow it is a rights and royalty-free image with no restriction on use. It is not, unless the creator wishes to give their work away and makes that clear by inserting a Creative Commons CC0 ‘No rights reserved’ mark on the image. Alternatively, a green Creative Barcode IP tag can be used if you are happy for the image to be freely used by others, but you wish to be acknowledged as the image’s creator or ‘owner’.

The Essential Guide to Business for Artists and Designers

In the UK and Europe, we now have collective licensing which means if the author or creator of a photograph or artwork can’t be identified then an individual, business or organisation has the right to make use of that image for commercial or non-commercial purposes. The Orphan Works Register, which provides licensing information (via, is one of the main portals for such information in the UK.

To avoid individuals or businesses using your work, especially for commercial purposes without your permission you need to consider a range of options:

1. If you wish to exclusively license your images or photographs at some future date, avoid posting them on social media, as many channels take an automatic share in your copyright, and reserve the right to license and sell that image in the future.

2.  Don’t post high-resolution images you are particularly sensitive about; it is better to upload at low-res, e.g. set at 72 dpi resolution and reduce your pixel dimensions (height and width) so the image can’t be enlarged.

3. Make sure you add the copyright symbol © with your full name, date and also ‘All Rights Reserved’ on all images to avoid any doubt over ownership. The same assertion that you own and retain your copyright can also be added to the bottom of your blog or webpages as outlined above.

4. Make sure you add you signature, motif, monogram, full name, branded mark, website address or a series of watermarks across the image. Obviously many creators don’t like the idea of watermarks, but they definitely deter those looking to use an image without permission.

5.  Explore IP tags; Creative Barcode is one such excellent provider of this service where your logo and copyright data can be embedded into a badge on your work.

6.  Think about how you post your images, reduce the risk of infringement by taking photographs, for instance of your illustrations at an odd angle, e.g. drawn in an open sketch book with a mug of tea, so people can see there is something interesting on the page, but not something they could easy screenshot as a whole work for reuse.

7. If you spot any unlawful copying, there are websites out there where you can vent your anger. Though, I would strongly advise seeking professional advice from an IP lawyer or professional body. Joining a copyright protection body such as ACID can also be invaluable.

For more detail about copyright and intellectual property matters, please turn to chapters, 9, 12 and 14 of the Second Edition of The Essential Guide to Business for Artists and Designers.

Alison Branagan is a creative industries business consultant, author, and an associate lecturer at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design where she teaches short courses in entrepreneurship, business start-up and promotion. To browse Alison's titles, visit

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