As an artist, photographer or graphic designer, you've probably spent years perfecting your art. Whether you attended art school or are self-taught, you deserve to be compensated for your work, just like other professionals. You do work regularly for clients or sell your work. You are always pushing yourself to get better, to create something more engaging.
Then, one day, you spot it. Another website, social media page or blog using your custom layout or even printing a design you created on t-shirts without permission from you. You also aren't profiting from anything the company is selling.
Some say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In a way, the saying is true. After all, the company, blogger or website that stole your art probably really liked it. Whoever decided to use your work without your permission felt that something you created could draw attention to the article or product. The problem is that the more your art is used without your permission, the harder it will become for you to profit off of that work. You may feel flattered or angry or a combination of the two. You should immediately start taking steps to protect your intellectual property and copyrighted original art.
Sometimes, copyright infringement stems from a silly mistake
There are a lot of people online who don't really know what they're doing. Plenty of small business owners may decide to build their own websites. From dentists to landscapers, there are all kinds of professionals who think they can produce an attractive website without ever learning about the process and the rules involved. They may not even hesitate to use your image, layout, design or graphics. After all, it was online, so it's free to use, right?
While ignorance of the law is not an excuse, many times these kinds of issues are honest mistakes. If you contact the company that is using your image and politely explain, the issue could be quickly resolved. If the other party doesn't immediately stop using your work without compensation and permission, you can also send a cease and desist letter. Seeing in writing that the use of the image is copyright infringement may be enough to provide motivation for a change.
Willful copyright infringement should be fought
There are a handful of online companies whose bread and butter is the theft and sale of copyrighted images. Unscrupulous printers, retailers and manufacturers offer t-shirts, posters and other items for sale, printed with amazing art they have no legal right to use. In these situations, documentation is your friend. Take screen shots of everything, in case they are later taken down. Try to document all the details you can. You may be able to pursue legal action against the company involved for the profits derived from your art or design.