When I first started hand lettering, I knew very little about sharing my work online. A little while into my lettering practice, I drew up a Dumbledore quote, inside the shape of a lightbulb. I was proud of this drawing, so I shared in on Instagram and my blog at the time, and then pinned the image from my blog on Pinterest. That pin has now been repinned over 2,500 times, and I’ve seen other pins of the image with several hundred repins as well. I made a rookie mistake, though. I didn’t include any kind of watermark or credit on the image itself, as it never occurred to me that someone repinning the pin might not keep the source link. If you see this image on Pinterest now, it can be difficult to figure out that it belongs to me.
A few months ago, a good friend of mine texted me to let me know a friend of a friend had posted my drawing! The only problem, of course, was that my name or username was nowhere on the post. I wasn’t really sure what to do. Do I slyly comment on the image, giving myself credit for the drawing? Ask my friend to do it? Call the person out and shame them for not giving credit? Do I just let it go?
If you have to deal with a similar situation, my number one piece of advice is: don’t do nothing - it’s your artwork, you deserve to be credited, and it’s a great chance to make some new connections! I’ve actually run into this issue with that drawing multiple times since then. And I’ve found that it always, always pays to be friendly.
Attribution vs. Theft
There is an important distinction to make here - this person was not taking credit for my work, claiming to have come up with the concept or drawn it. This is an issue of attribution, just someone reposting something they liked and forgot to credit or weren’t able to find credit for. The other, someone trying to claim credit as the artist, is totally sketchy and might warrant less friendly action.
Don’t Get Aggressive
When there’s no attribution, you need to give the person the benefit of the doubt. Often attribution gets removed long before this person posted your work - they’re likely not intentionally snubbing you. Locating the original artist is a large enough obstacle that many people don’t even try and just post without attribution.
You can’t expect that someone wanting to post a pretty image of song lyrics or a quote they like on Instagram would realistically spend more than a couple of clicks (if that) trying to figure out who the artist is. As an artist you might, as you are overly sensitive to this topic, but the average user is not.
If a friend lets me know they saw my work somewhere with no attribution, I always ask if they feel comfortable commenting with something like “Hey, my friend @ambrgarnr drew this! So cool to see it here!” It’s the most natural way to have credit given - someone with a connection to the post addressing the issue (and, it's reflective of what actually happened!). Then you can come in and reply, since you’re now tagged in the comment, thanking the person for sharing your work. It all looks like an awesome coincidence (and it was!), and you get your work attributed, ninja-style.
If they’re not comfortable posting, I go ahead and comment. I approach it as if I just stumbled upon the post - you don’t want the person to get defensive and think someone sicced you on them!
My friendly comments are along the lines of “Woah, so awesome to stumble upon my work on Instagram! Thanks for sharing!” or “My artwork, spotted in the wild! Thanks for reposting!”. The response has been 100% positive. Sometimes the person will apologize and say they’d have given credit if they’d known, or they’ll reply saying they’re so happy they finally know who drew it.
It’s a win win win - no one aggressively attacks the poster for stealing work, you get credit for your work, and you build new connections.
Don’t Publicly Shame
You’ve seen it before - a person feels wronged by someone, posts a screenshot of the wrongdoing on their own account, and puts the other user on blast.
Have you ever seen this actually go well for the shamer? Sure, their merry band of followers might go and harass the wrongdoer until they comply, but there’s always some backlash. Does the shamer retain the same reputation and level of respect they once had? No. Their devoted fans will remain, but many of their more passive followers will be put off - especially if it turns out that it was all a misunderstanding and they overreacted. Shaming should never be your go-to reaction. If you want to get frustration at the situation off your chest, talk to your friends. If you post something like that online, at best you look pouty or catty, and at worst, you look aggressive and self-righteous - especially if you have thousands of followers.
Learn From It
If you find your work is being posted without attribution regularly, particularly from a pin that's been stripped of your credit, there's not much you can do for now. But you can protect your work for the future!
Make sure your images always have some kind of credit on the image itself. My friend Jenn at Hello Brio has a super easy tutorial for adding a subtle, tasteful watermark to your images. This doesn't guarantee that someone won't crop it out later, but it adds some additional protection to ensure you get credit for your work.
When you're sharing an image of your work and link back to it on your own site, make sure it's to a URL that's here to stay. Both the Etsy listing and the blog I linked to on my original pins are now defunct, so even if they were still on the pin they'd be pretty useless for leading people to information about crediting me properly.
Have you ever found your work posted anywhere without attribution? How did you handle it?