Why Sharing Your Work on the Internet May Not Be a Good Idea

By Linda Riesenberg Fisler

As we touched on in the podcast last week, sharing your work on Social Media Platforms or any place on the web may hurt your works’ value and inherent copyright. This blog will discuss why I have chosen not to share my work via the internet and offer some other options.

First, let’s dive into Copyright law. To share your product (i.e., painting, sculpture, etc.), you must make an image of it. Aside from that image not fairly representing the product, that image is posted across the web and becomes Public Domain the minute you hit the post button. Copyright Law covers the product and the photo, but because we posted to the Public Domain you can lose that copyright unless you registered it with the Copyright Office publishing it. Let me give you some of the information I’ve found at this website:  https://www.copyrightlaws.com/legally-using-images/

“The definition of an image may vary. For example, the US Copyright Act defines images as ‘pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works’ and defines these works to include:

two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, diagrams, models, and technical drawings, including architectural plans.

Section 101, Copyright Law of the United States

So illustrations, photographs, charts, and the like are protected by copyright.

The full range of rights attaches to owners of copyright in these works. They have the exclusive right to exercise their rights such as:

  • Reproducing or republishing the image
  • Preparing new images and other works based on the original image
  • Distributing copies of the image to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
  • Displaying the image in public.”

So, here is where it gets tricky and the main reason I’ve stopped sharing images of my work. Social Media violates this law when images are shared even though the terms of service say that members cannot and should not share copyrighted material without consent from the owner. How many people have asked you to share your work? Where does the image end up—does it just stay on one social media platform? If I do a image search, does it appear there? All of these instants can be interpreted as losing control of your work of art. It’s in the public domain now and beyond the concept of the Fair Use Guidelines. So?

Public Domain is defined by Creative Commons (a collection of websites offering public domain images) this way:

A public domain image is free of known copyright around the world. As the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 outlines: “You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.” Excellent news for artists.


Is it? It is great if we want to copy master artists’ works–maybe. Not excellent news if we lose control of our work. But look at the first sentence. How many of us register our product with the US Copyright Office and receive the letter with our copyright number? We would go broke. We have always relied on the age-old answer that it is automatically copyrighted the minute you create something. I’m not sure that a court of law will protect the image with that logic once an image is in the public domain. When I post a photo, I risk it being stolen or copied, probably with no recourse if I didn’t obtain copyrights on all of my work with the US Copyright Office. We haven’t even talked about Fair Use yet.

Fair Use Guidelines has this adage that went something like this:

“As long as I alter it by 30%, it is changed enough, and I don’t have to ask for permission.”

Unknown, but spoken by many!

Define 30% for me on a creative product, please. If I download an image to paint on a 20×24 canvas, is the 30% difference achieved between the image and the painting I create? If I change 144 inches of the total 480 inches of the canvas 30%? If I change the season, is it 30%? And we all know if we take someone to court over this, it will be expensive and time-consuming, and we could lose the right to that piece of work. My question is, is that worth it? Do you want to chance losing control of your collection of work?

I know it feels great to get all the love and appreciation when sharing your work, and the platform is a great way to build your following. However, for me, it isn’t worth the risk. Stolen images of artwork happen daily, if not minute by minute. Are you prepared to fight every one of those instants? Are you ok with potentially losing your copyrights to your work because of Fair Use, Creative Commons law, and Public Domain? I honestly don’t want to take that risk. Losing that copyright will also affect the inherent value of the work. It loses the uniqueness that I’m trying to build with my collectors. Tune into Art Chat to hear more on this subject soon.

So, what do we do?

One interesting option could be to offer your mailing list a glimpse of the just finished work with an opportunity to buy it. Another could be to have your website gallery sitting behind a login option on your website (you can program this with or without charging a fee). Show only a small portion of the work and direct them to join your newsletter/website to see the whole painting. All these options show that you are trying to retain control of your work.

I want to talk about my published books, which are copyrighted with the US Copyright Office. Having the letter with the copyright number provides an avenue for sending a clear cease and desist order for attempted theft. If I decide to exercise my options, it will also stand up better in a court of law.

There is one clear and easy thing to do to help keep control of your work, the value, stop any potential theft and keep it out of the Public Domain. Don’t share your work on Social Media Platforms or the internet without guarding its value and controlling it. I can’t count the time the number of people who approached me telling me they printed the image and framed it. You know what? They were proud of that move while I steamed at the blatant theft of my work with no compensation. It was my fault in the past, but not anymore.

And, in case you are wondering, yes, this article is copyrighted as well. (Look below at the “© 2022 – Artistic Harmonies Association.”) If you want to share it, just ask me.

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