Many of our design clients are artists, and often, one of their first concerns is the threat of folks stealing their art. We largely get around the problem by building our sites in Flash – the design of which already makes it difficult to steal an image. You can grab an image of the screen, of course, but you can’t right-click and download an image like you can with a typical HTML web page.
Yet some designers offer their own work for free, or at their expense. Consider desktop wallpaper, a common form of art on the Internet. Many designers will create very high quality versions of their art, often in a number of convenient sizes, and encourage people to take them and put them on their computer desktop. Sure, they add a logo or credit, and why not? I don’t mind having a small credit along with a beautiful desktop image. Chances are others will notice the artwork too, and might even grow interested in the artist as a result.
Years ago, a client of ours discovered that a fan had created an entire series of icons out of her artwork. She was outraged. Someone had taken her characters (giving her full credit for the art of course) and made cute little graphics out of them.
This might be a problem for a big corporation. Using the likeness of Mickey Mouse, for instance, is almost certainly going to result in a legal threat from the Walt Disney Corporation. But for a small, independent artist such as this person, I would consider this exposure a good thing! Think of all the people who could have discovered her art by seeing these graphics, all without any effort on her part.
The Internet changes a lot of rules. If you find yourself in a similar situation, consider how both parties might mutually benefit. Don’t assume others are trying to steal or rip you off. In our experience, if someone likes your work, they probably want to pay you for it. The real trick is getting them to notice it in the first place.