I recently issued a survey to artists, designers, photographers,writers and other creatives. I asked questions relating to intellectual property theft of their work. When I say intellectual property I’m referring to copyrighted and trademarked work – designs, art, photos, or business names. What is being stolen is mainly marketing images as well as flat images scraped from sites such as Zazzle or Society6.

To maintain the integrity of the responses, this survey was limited to members of the Who Stole My Images group. A total of thirty-five people responded. While it’s not a terribly large number, it does give us some indication of what is happening.

In the past couple years, creatives who sell their work online have experienced an unprecedented amount of image theft.  Criminal rings have discovered a way to sell these stolen images on platforms such as Amazon.com. A May 2016 CNBC article describes the problems and even features some members of Who Stole My Images. A more recent article by Slate magazine also describes the ongoing problems.

The rise of ecommerce stores through Shopify or Big Commerce also provide an opportunity for thieves to sell these scraped images on pillow covers, phone cases and other products. Because these are low resolution images lifted from the internet, the product quality is very poor. An example of this situation is highlighted by artist Christopher Beikmann. He obtained a counterfeit of his work and took photos to compare against the authentic items. There is also a video comparing a counterfeit pillow cover to the real thing.

The end result is that customers are affected in addition to the artist. While there are laws to protect copyrights and trademarks, they urgently need to be updated to address the current environment. The current safe harbor provisions are up for discussion and possible revision, but more needs to be done. William Buckley, an active and vocal advocate for IP rights, created a petition calling for a Take Down, Stay Down measure. If enacted this would provide stronger protection for creative work.

What I’ve described above provides some background and sets up the stage, so to speak. While there are numerous articles highlighting the problem of IP theft, there isn’t much out there to quantify it. So this survey was created, it’s a start and hopefully other studies will come along to look more closely at the issue.

The survey asks nine questions and the results are listed below. Some interesting observations I’d like to highlight:

  • In response to the question “How many times have you found your work stolen?”, most responded with less than a hundred. A surprising twenty percent responded that it had been stolen over a thousand times.
  • Forty-four percent of those surveyed said that when they issued a proper DMCA notice, there was either no response or an unusually long delay in response.
  • Roughly a third of those surveyed experienced a significant loss of income attributed to these thefts.

What do you think about all this? Comment below and let us know your thoughts!