We've all seen the stickers of Calvin peeing on competing truck logos - but did you know that Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, did not create that image? It was copyright infringement. And sadly, by the time Mr. Watterson realized he needed to stop the thievery, it was too late. They were plastered on nearly every truck window in America. As he said, "I clearly miscalculated how popular it would be to show Calvin urinating on a Ford logo." Heck, in researching this topic, the second site that came up in Google was "Bootleg Calvin and Hobbes Items" - products people made using Mr. Watterson's art that he did not approve (and is probably not getting paid for).
Infringers (thieves) have made millions of dollars off of Mr. Watterson's art. And perhaps saddest of all, a wonderful and pure comic strip was sullied by an image that has perhaps become more iconic than the artist's creation itself.
I try very hard to avoid the same thing happening to my own art. I put my copyright information on everything I post online. However, people constantly download my art, literally remove my copyright and put my art back on the internet as if it were their own. My "Coloring Page Tuesdays" collection has grown so large, it could easily become my full time job just tracking down copyright infringers. With every search I make, several infringements come up every time (often on the first search).
That's where you come in. My awesome followers (nearly 3,000 subscribers to my newsletter and well over a million hits each year) often let me know about infringements they see - thank you! Just this week Amy alerted me to a MAJOR retailer who gave out one of my images as Halloween coloring pages (without permission or compensation and my copyright line was removed). This clearly goes against my copyright guidelines (check #6). I alerted the company to the infringement, it went to their legal department, and I quickly received a very apologetic phone call and an offer to pay up. (In other words, they knew they'd done something wrong and I could have sued them for a lot more money than I actually requested.)
Others I find through "Google Images," through following my stats, or just by typing in the name of an image and seeing what comes up.
Sadly, along with several other copyright violations (one in a language I can't even figure out), the worst infringement I've ever found also happened this week. A woman downloaded nearly my entire Coloring Page Tuesday collection, removed my copyright, colored the images and then sold them through several Stock Image sites as her own creations. And she made a lot of money doing it. Yes, I'm going after her - I'm disgusted and horrified that she could steal four years of hard work from me like that. But perhaps the worst of it is, there are now hundreds of people out there who purchased "her art" thinking it was legal, and under the rights stated on the stock sites, they may employ the images for commercial use, logos, you name it.
Lets put this in perspective. I do get requests for usage of my images outside my copyright terms (usually by businesses) and I am happy to work with people. You'll notice tag lines on some of my art mentioning that "this image is used as a logo for..." Those are companies or organizations who have paid for the right to use those images - in some cases, they become the owner of the copyright and I maintain usage rights to continue sharing the image with you as a coloring page (in other words, I don't own it anymore).
Depending on the usage needs and the business (and whether I'm hearing from them up front, or after I've caught them), I charge anywhere from $250 to $1500 for single usage of my images. And again, depending on the usage needs and the organization/corporation, I charge anywhere from $1,500 to $5,500 for my logo work. (That's average pricing for my industry.)
With that in mind, lets consider over the life of "Coloring Page Tuesdays" I will have commercial buyers for every single one of my nearly 250 images. But they don't come to me because they can find my work online someplace else, without my copyright restrictions attached. That means this one copyright infringer could potentially cost me as little as $62,500 or as much as $1,375,000. You read that right. That's income that I won't get.
Never mind that the entire reason I create my coloring pages is to draw attention to MY BOOKS, and when they are separated from my website, the intention is completely undone.
THAT is why I take copyright infringement so seriously. And I so appreciate your help. When you email me with usage questions "just to make sure you're doing it right" - I want to hug you. When you alert me to businesses using my images in ways that don't look right to you - I want to hug you again.
There's a lot of ignorance out there about copyright, what it means and why it's important (by individuals and major corporations - you'd be amazed). But the bottom line is, just because artwork is on the internet, does not mean that it's free or that it's okay to use it. If you do want/need to use artwork you find online, please check with the creator of that artwork, make sure its okay first. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and the roof I have to pay for to keep over my head.
Update: Thank you for all your great comments and support. I've followed up this article with a new post: "10 Ways to Protect Your Art Online."