Short answer? Pretty safe, with some exceptions.
It also depends what you call “theft”. For this essay, I consider theft to mean several things.
- saving the image file and using it on another site without attribution or source info
- printing out a work rather than buying a print of it from the artist
- using the art for a commercial purpose without permission (album covers, crafts for sale, shirts, ipod cases, etc), by tracing and copying the art and selling the copy
I’ll take these point-by-point.
First of all, I don’t consider someone linking to your work theft in ANY way. People who like your work are going to want to share it with other people, and this is good! You post your work online so others can see it. Someone linking to your site is a good thing. Someone sharing your work is good.
However, they may save the actual image file and repost it to their own site or page, giving you no link back, no credit for your work. And that is theft, in a way. To avoid this, you can watermark all your images.
A watermark is great, but it puts a lot of people off, if it takes up large areas of the image or interferes with the image content.
Unobtrusive but inside the image in a way that’s difficult to crop out.
There’s the first issue dealt with, mostly. You can also use google image search once in a while, to check and see who’s using your images. If you’ve watermarked them well, those uses will lead back to your site anyway. If the people using them are ethical, they’ll also give you credit and link back to your work.
The second problem- people printing out your work instead of buying it. The easiest solution here is to never upload print-resolution images online. This is simple enough until you want to use a print-on-demand service to sell prints or shirts, that requires your upload of large files. I use redbubble for this- because they keep the large-format file hidden from the net, and only show a smaller version of it to customers. Basically, don’t post large files online for public view. Only post images that are too small to print out.
The biggest problem, the worst, is people stealing your work and using it by tracing, or copying it, then printing it onto things they’ll sell. It happens pretty often, and it’s really upsetting. The only real solution for this is again, only post small images, too small to print. You can also be vigilant and search google images for your work, but that takes a lot of time away from making stuff.
I still have not solved this problem, if you have suggestions, leave me a comment! I would love to know how other people handle this.