Let’s pretend for a second that you hand-lettered a phrase because you enjoy doing it in your spare time. You spend a few hours of your day polishing it and share the final design across social media.
At the time that you released it into the wild, your audience liked and commented on it as they normally have in the past.
Fast-forward a few months and you receive a message from someone telling you how much they loved your hand-lettered piece. They send you a photo with your original piece of art tattooed on their body, printed on a t-shirt or painted on canvas. You’re flattered, but also not sure what to make of it.
Your admirer did it without your permission, which feels awkward and wrong at the same time.
Where do you draw the line between flattery and stealing?
Sense of Entitlement
Entitlement is a word I like to use to describe when a person other than the original artist or designer thinks they have the right to use a design simply because they can.
You see designs stolen or copied for profit in the form of “fan art,” which happens quite often in the design industry. Most of these copies are done without the original artist ever knowing until someone points it out. When this eventually happens, you realize how small the internet can be within a small online community.
Copying for Education
Now, the only time that copying is acceptable is when it’s for learning purposes. This is perfectly fine. Actually, it’s recommended to young artists and designers so they can learn the basics and fundamentals. It also builds muscle memory and a mental bank of inspiration.
If you’re copying to learn, it’s not necessarily a prerequisite to ask the original artist for permission. Just giving him/her giving credit is good enough.
Stealing is Stealing
It’s obvious when a design is a complete rip-off. Sometimes you’ll find a design modified to fit the thief’s criteria, but most people are smart and can tell the difference. That’s because it’s usually poorly done.
Just because something was created out of sheer joy and isn’t being “used” for a specific project, product or purpose doesn’t mean it’s up for grabs.
If you have a friend or know someone with the intention to sell products with stolen work, don’t hesitate to stop them. It’s disrespectful to the artist/designer. Instead, ask to purchase the rights of the design or just buy the actual product. Designers and artists have spent hours of their time refining their process not for someone to take advantage and profit off of their hard work.
Not Everything on the Internet is Free
Anyone can copy, but not everyone chooses to spend their time mastering their craft and honing their skills. We’re just people sharing our process and designs to the world. While some of the work could be for real clients, the other half could be for the love of creating. Neither makes it okay to steal.
Use the images you like as inspiration, not as an easy way to put money in your pocket.