Your rights if someone uses your digital artwork

If you’re uploading your work to the internet, you need to understand your rights so you can better protect yourself from copyright infringement.

Are you uploading your work? Make sure you know your rights.

More than 300 million images are reportedly uploaded to Facebook every day. That's just one website in the endless landscape of the internet. Of these images, how likely is it that one could be your digital artwork?

There's a common misconception that just because something has been uploaded to the internet, it's free for use by the public and even by businesses. As a result, many social media platforms are rife with instances of copyright infringement to the point that it's increasingly difficult to prevent and sanction breaches.

Copyright infringement is a serious issue for artists as it can significantly impact income and devalue the original work. If you feel your artwork – whether a photo, illustration or graphic design element – has been unlawfully republished, it's important to know your rights. 

What copyright does a digital artist own?

In Australia, copyright is a collection of rights designed to protect creators such as artists, musicians, writers and film makers. Your copyright relating to a work exists automatically, meaning it's nothing something that needs to be registered like a trademark or patent. Instead, copyright is a default protection ensuring you maintain ownership over your work so you can control it and earn money from it.

Copyright grants you the right to:

  • Reproduce or copy your work.
  • Share your work with the public, eg. online.
  • Publish your work.
  • Adapt your work.

Anyone wishing to do any of the above will need your permission, even if they have bought the original work.

If you have produced work under contract for an individual or business, it's possible you do not own the copyright. This will depend on the terms of the contract, but they will often include clauses requiring artists to surrender all intellectual property rights to the company.

So, if artwork you have published online has been republished you may be able to lodge an infringement notice to have it removed or even seek damages.

Expressing yourself online? Make sure your rights are respected.Expressing yourself online? Make sure your rights are respected.

What jurisdiction applies to my digital artwork?

It's important to be aware that many hosting sites such as Facebook and YouTube are based overseas. This means they are in another jurisdiction, where a different law applies. Before uploading your work to a hosting website, ensure you understand what jurisdiction the site belongs to and what protections you are afforded. To further complicate matters, content on these hosting sites may be seen, downloaded and republished by users in other jurisdictions.

If you're concerned about a potential infringement across jurisdictions, it's important to reach out to a trusted intellectual property lawyer to understand your rights and any possible course of action.

Likewise, take note of any website's Terms and Conditions before uploading your work. The majority of websites will generally require you enter a contract by creating a user account and agreeing to Terms and Conditions, which can be updated at any time.

Among the Terms and Conditions, a licence agreement will usually grant the website permission to host the work worldwide, non-exclusively and royalty-free. If you're trying to protect your work, it's vital you understand what you're agreeing to when you accept these contracts.

Likes, comments - shares? Are your works being shared lawfully?Likes, comments – shares? Are your works being shared lawfully?

How to protect your copyright online

Unfortunately, infringement can occur even when you know your rights – but in today's digital landscape, marketing yourself as an artist online is unavoidable. Whether uploading to a host website or your own digital portfolio, take these steps to protect your work.

Low-resolution images

High-resolution images are required for marketing and advertising materials – as they make a business look more professional. Fortunately, a high resolution isn't generally necessary to share your artwork for public viewing. By only publishing in 72dpi (dots per inch), you're less likely to encounter people using it for commercial purposes.


Likewise, a watermark deters infringement by businesses, but it isn't a panacea. Watermarks generally detract from your artwork and can often be cropped if they don't cover the whole piece. Similarly, designers can still copy whole concepts when a watermark is present. Nonetheless, a subtle copyright watermark is useful for indicating your ownership and rights.

Embed copyright metadata

It's possible to embed a copyright notice within your artwork using the metadata. This may not be visible to the public's eye, but like a watermark can prove valuable in copyright disputes.

Respond to infringement

Many people mistakenly think that because something is on the internet, it belongs to the public domain. So, they use work they have no right to for all sorts of purposes. Part of educating the public and protecting yourself from infringement is seeking legal recourse when your work has been stolen.

Set a precedent against businesses unlawfully using your work for legal gain by reaching out to an intellectual property lawyer. They will help you understand whether a lawsuit will be worthwhile and if you are likely to earn damages.

For more information about protecting your work, reach out to Alder IP today.