Wednesday, April 10, 2013

On Stealing Images For Your Portfolio

This post, I'm afraid, is not for you, my faithful readers. No, none of you would be reckless enough to require the advice herein. But there are folks you may have encountered who might just need a taste of this advice and I invite you to point them in the direction of this post after looking it over yourselves. Of course it seems silly that I need write this at all, but the fact is that what I'm going to talk about happens with surprising frequency, so without further ado:

Don't steal other people's artwork and present it as your own.

Okay, obviously it's wrong to steal someone else's artwork at all under any circumstances, but I want to concentrate on the folks who use the hard work of others to represent themselves.

I'm really never sure why folks do such a thing, as there's a certain lapse in their logic. Sure, it probably solves an issue in the short term, but if you commit such a crime you'll almost certainly hang for it in the end. Maybe you're a student and you're assignment has fallen flat, or you just didn't bother to do the assignment in the first place. Or perhaps you're out of school trolling for work and need to pump up your portfolio in order to find employment. Whatever your situation is, theft is just a short-term solution.

And hey, stealing that piece might allow you to pull one over on someone and you might get you your passing grade or land that job, so I suppose it could seem a very good short-term solution indeed.

But then what?

There will be an expectation from those you answer to that you'll be able to duplicate your success. You'll be expected to actually have the skills it took to make that piece of art to begin with. If you lack those skills or those skills aren't of equal value, it's only a matter of time before you're found out. Once that happens, it's pretty likely that you'll be ruined. If still a student, you'll get a failing grade and almost certainly face some sort of disciplinary action. If you're in the work force, you'll lose the gig and your art direct will tell another art director all about you. Then that art director will tell another, who will tell another and so forth. Your fellow illustrators will shout your name and your sins from the rooftops until you are shunned by the community at large and disappear in shame.

So, the solution to avoiding all that would logically be to steal some more, right? Next assignment, you find another image to yank from some other guy's website or DeviantArt page. Have a ton of creature concepts due by the end of the day? Just go ahead and download those off of Facebook. Just be sure to cover up the original artist's signature — that'll keep you covered.

Except, obviously, you're just digging your hole deeper. Each time you steal, you are increasing the chances of getting caught. Eventually you'll take and use something that someone recognizes, and then the art directors start calling and the illustrators start shunning all over again. Clearly that's not going to work, either.

Still I hear you say that I am wrong and that no one will ever catch you. You're little corner of the internet is too obscure, and you're far too unknown. And I counter with the existence of Google Images and Tineye, two websites which allow you to either upload an image or provide its web address in order to locate all the other places that image is used throughout the internet. It's a very scary thing to see how widely one's work is disseminated, and when one finds their hard work in the portfolio of another artist, it rightfully sends them into a blind fury. You will be found, and when you are found you will not be treated kindly.

And yet, you may still be pondering things and weighing what I've said. To some, the repercussions I've listed might not seem so bad. Who needs art directors and the respect of their fellow illustrators, anyway? Unfortunately for you and your thought process, I've just listed the most mild of consequences of your "efforts."

See, there's a little something called copyright. Most images are owned by someone, and some of the folks who own images aren't folks at all, but rather big, seemingly faceless corporations with deep pockets. That part about their being faceless? It's not true. They have a face made of a hundred pit bull lawyers on retainer ready to bark out with cease and desists at a moment's notice. And if your sins are great enough, you will feel the bite of their lawsuits.

But even the little guys can sue. It's not just for the big dogs. There are such things as statutory damages that can be claimed by whoever holds the copyright and isn't afraid to call a lawyer of their own. Admittedly such a claim is much, much easier if the work in question is registered with the copyright office, and so if you've ever wondered why anyone bothers doing that sort of thing, you now have an answer. Suffice it to say that no matter how you look at it, the law is stacked against anyone who goes about taking art that doesn't belong to them.

Look, as I've said many times already, you will get caught if you take someone else's work and pretend that it is your own. Your reputation will be damaged and that damage will be catastrophic and long-lasting. Every piece of art you've ever done will be called into question, as will every piece of art you will ever do. Your entire career and status will be called into question, and you will be plagued by people who doubt you.

Of course, all this being said, I suspect that logic, guilt, or the promise of dire consequences won't sway the mind of someone who is dishonest enough to do this kind of thing. That's why it's up to the rest of us to be vigilant and make sure none of these folks get away with it. But if by chance I actually have moved anyone to any extent, I'll leave you with a few more thoughts.

All things considered, it's a lot cheaper and easier to be honest with yourself. Maybe your skills aren't what they need to be just yet. Maybe your portfolio is lacking. But most artists I know would rather see you put your fledgling work out there and ask us for help than watch you take a stupid shortcut. Hard work will certainly be required in order to overcome your inadequacies, and it will definitely be frustrating at times, but the community will take you in and support you along the way. And if you go down the honest path and persevere, you will find that your work will no longer be limited to what you can find on the internet.


  1. A big thanks to Tom Keenoy (who is awesome) for the notes. I doubt I did any of them justice, but my ability to deliver information on bigger legal issues in a concise way and balance that with the flow of the article is... lacking. Hopefully, I've provided enough for those interested to investigate further as necessary.

    For further information on Tom and his awesomeness:


  2. This is a great post, but Its not OK to steal someone's else work and then use it on your site. There's also a similar thing happened with us we offer web design, social media, seo services. But there was someone who was stealing out portfolio, then we contacted him, then he removed all our copied portfolio.


I welcome all comments, questions, and discussion so long as you keep it civil.