The other day, I was browsing my twitter feed and came across a post on the Poppytalk blog that hit home: Where Has All The Magic Gone?.  If you’re involved in the handmade/artisan/crafting/design/photography/illustration… oh heck – if you are a creative who puts your work on the web, it’s a post worth reading.  I know it will hit a nerve, whether you agree with all of it or not.

A few hours later I was doing some work on a blog post for my little side venture Eyes Bigger Than My Stomach (yes, a shameless plug – that’s the benefit of being the boss. hehe), and I stumbled on some of my food photography being used on tumblr.  Ok, that’s not the world’s most unusual occurrence.  I know from time to time it happens and it irritates me greatly that the “borrowers” almost never ask.  All my work that makes it to the web is well marked as being copyrighted.  And hey, guess what, if you ask me nicely and you’re not attempting to make money from it, I almost always say yes!

This time, however, after seeing the initial photo being used, I did a quick google to see what else I could find on tumblr.  I was a little surprised.  Eleven different photos (some used multiple times)… and these are the photos where the people were kind enough to use the images without my permission but at least credit me and give a link back to my flickr page.  Trust me, there are loads of people out there who are not so thoughtful.

In the grand scheme of copyright infringement, these are small infractions.  The ones I found had all credited me and even linked back to my work.  And most of them just like the photo and want to share it with their friends – which I don’t mind.  It would just be nice to be asked first!

But these are the easy ones to find.  What about the people who take your work and try to pass if off as theirs?  What about those who go through the trouble of removing your copyright watermark?  Or alter a few words of your blog post and post it as theirs?  Or take your web design and change the text and say they did it?

I honestly don’t have the time to vigilantly police the whole world wide web looking for people stealing my stuff.  I can approach tumblr with a request that the offending parties be required to remove my content but it’s a fair amount of work that has to be done for each image and each use.  If it’s a really serious infraction, I can involve a lawyer.  But that is very expensive and I have to decide if the potential effect on my livelihood is worth the cost of legal action.

Like the people at poppytalk, I don’t know what the answers are.  As somebody who makes their living from their creations, do you have to accept the fact that copyright theft on the internet is part of choosing to do business on-line?  Do you trust enough in your skills and abilities, not to mention your own personal vision, to keep at it when you know that somebody can easily swoop in and call your work their own?

It’s a question I’ve been struggling with for years.  How much of your work do you allow to even be on-line?  I’m curious to know what you think?  Have you found ways to minimize the number of people who use your work without permission?  Do you go after every offender?  Or do you pick and choose your battles?  Feel free to share your thoughts.