How to prevent art theft

Art thief stealing paintings

It's happened to me! I have had my art used without permission, countless times. It's disheartening when it happens, and many artists that I know who have had it happen to them, no longer chase after the perpetrators, as it is a time-consuming venture, and who wants to have to keep track of all those lurid details? But I do it anyways. I don't enjoy the chase, but as an artist who earns a substantial portion of her annual income from licensing deals, it is necessary to catch those who ruthlessly use my art for their own personal gains, without my permission.

One such recent story: an art teacher (can you believe it?) in Vancouver, "borrowed" my digital design to create "original abstract paintings" that she sold online. I was quite horrified, when I discovered this, and so I notified the legal group that represents me in Canada, and provided them with all the details. They sent her a cease-and-desist letter, and she had to pay me CA$300 for some artworks she had already sold (though I later discovered even more of her paintings that she claimed as her own!). I think it shook her to be called upon this theft, and she removed all copies of her illicit artworks from the internet, immediately. I'm hoping that she's learned her lesson, and won't try that stunt again, on anyone else.

AI rendition of an art thief stealing abstract painting from an art gallery.

As an abstract artist who pours heart and soul into every brushstroke, the thought of someone stealing your work is a chilling one. Yet, art theft comes in various forms, from physical theft of paintings to the appropriation of ideas. As a member of the Artists Rights Society (ARS) and the Regroupement des artistes visuels du Quebec (RAAV), I've come to appreciate the importance of safeguarding artistic creations and understanding the avenues available for recourse.

Physical theft

Empty frame in art gallery: art theft.

The most blatant form of art theft is the physical removal of a painting from its rightful place. Whether it's from a gallery, a public exhibition, or even your own studio, the loss of a physical artwork can be devastating. So, what can you do to prevent it?

  1. Security measures: Implementing security measures such as surveillance cameras, alarms, and secure display mounts can deter thieves and provide evidence in case of theft.
  2. Documentation: Maintain detailed documentation of your artworks, including photographs, descriptions, and provenance records. This documentation not only helps in identifying stolen pieces but also strengthens your legal case.
  3. Insurance: Ensure your artworks are adequately insured against theft and damage. While insurance cannot replace the sentimental value of a stolen piece, it can provide financial compensation to help mitigate the loss.

But what if prevention fails, and your artwork is stolen despite your best efforts?

Legal recourse

In cases of physical theft, the legal recourse may vary depending on your location and the circumstances of the theft. Organizations like ARS and RAAV provide invaluable legal support for artists, including assistance with copyright infringement and licensing issues. In the event of a stolen painting, they can offer guidance on navigating the legal process and seeking restitution.

Intellectual property theft

Art theft includes the use of someone's artwork, without express permission.

Beyond physical theft, artists also face the threat of intellectual property theft, including the unauthorized reproduction or appropriation of their ideas and concepts. This form of theft can be more challenging to detect and address but is no less damaging to the artist's integrity and livelihood.

Addressing unauthorized reproduction

If you discover that someone has copied or reproduced your artwork without permission, it's essential to take swift action to protect your rights. Begin by gathering evidence of the infringement, including photographs, timestamps, and any communications related to the unauthorized use. Then, reach out to legal resources such as ARS (in the US) or CARFACRAAV (in Canada) for guidance on issuing cease-and-desist letters or pursuing legal action if necessary.

Screenshot of a company that used a painting, "Infatuation", by artist Claire Desjardins, without permission.

The role of supporters

One invaluable asset in the fight against intellectual property theft is the vigilance of your followers and supporters. Often, it's their sharp eyes that first identify instances of unauthorized reproduction or appropriation. By fostering a strong and engaged community, you not only gain valuable exposure for your work but also benefit from a network of internet sleuths who are quick to alert you to suspicious activity.

AI rendition of an art thief stealing painting from art gallery.

Community education

In addition to relying on the support of your followers, it's crucial to educate the community about the importance of respecting artists' rights and intellectual property. By raising awareness about the impact of art theft and the legal protections available, we can empower individuals to recognize and report instances of infringement, ultimately fostering a culture of respect and accountability within the art world.

Art theft, whether physical or intellectual, poses a significant threat to artists' livelihoods and creative integrity. By staying informed, taking preventative measures, and leveraging available resources, we can minimize the risk and protect our artistic vision. Together, let's work towards a future where artists can create and thrive in an environment of mutual respect and protection, supported by a vigilant community dedicated to upholding the rights of creators everywhere.

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The amount of time dealing with scammers relating to our art business has been so time consuming and very disappointing just trying to protect your self from your presence on social media.

Eileen Tichauer

Yes, it happened to me about 30 years ago.I was living in China then and a friend alerted me to a copy of one of my painting; the copy was bigger in size and displayed in the gallery window. But, times were different then, and I simply did not know what to do. The gallery assistant dismissed my complaint and removed the painting. I decided not to proceed as we were all aware that even then Chinese painters were quite good in copying any image! Nowadays I sometimes see a painting that I think could be inspired by my work, but never took any action. However, recently I remember seeing your ‘Infatuation’ dress on one of the internet site selling clothing here in EU (can’t remember which one); the image caught my eye as I was thinking it resembles your art. I will be more alert/vigilant now and will let you know if I notice something similar. Thanks for sharing your experience with us all. Happy painting, Majda


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