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Artwork Infringement: Steps to Protecting Your Rights

by Mark Monlux

What should be your first step when you have discovered someone has infringed on your artwork?

While you might be tempted to grab a lawyer straight away and start suing for copyright infringement, such a strategy may not yield the positive results you are looking for. You are a business and should think like a businessperson. So, rather than responding on a personal level and being affronted that someone has stepped on your dignity by using your work without permission, respond by thinking how you can quickly resolve and even salvage the situation financially.

By sending the infringer an invoice you are doing a number of things:

  1. Announcing to them that they must pay for a service if they use it.
  2. Inform them that “yes” they did indeed use your service.
  3. Define for them the value of the service.

There are any number of ways the client might have used your work without realizing they were infringing: An unethical employee or contractor might have provided the art. One company buys out another company, and the latter was erroneous in listing their resource, etc.

By invoicing your new client, you give them a way to save face and address an issue they might have been unaware of. And this strategy has been shown to be effective. One example: Anita Kuntz, a famous Canadian illustrator, had an image infringed upon in Mexico. She used this strategy and developed a new client.

And remember, if you’re a member of the Guild, you can always request that the Guild’s Grievance Committee write a letter on your behalf urging the client to follow standard business practice and pay for the licensing of your work, and to remind them that to do otherwise is copyright infringement.

Should the company in question ignore your invoice, your second invoice and your third invoice, then you can approach a small claims court. Remember, they did use your service without paying. That is a pretty straightforward deal. And even small claims court might yield better financially than suing for copyright infringement.

This article was originally published in the Graphic Artists Guild column, Dear Mark.

© 2009 All Dear Mark materials are copyrighted by Mark Monlux, and may not be reproduced in any way without expressed written permission.

DISCLAIMER: To the best of my action or belief the material posted on “Dear Mark” discusses general principles of law in response to issues of concern to the illustration community. Nothing posted by Mark Monlux should be construed to be a substitute for advice of counsel regarding the specific facts and circumstances of an individual case.

Laws and their interpretation differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Legal advice addressing a specific situation should be sought from an attorney duly licensed in the appropriate jurisdiction.