When downloading from the internet, how do you know if the file is legitimate? Finding the source of the file can be tricky; and that’s before you find out what copyright restrictions apply. Here, we talk you through some tips to make you a bit more copyright savvy.
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With digital crafts, copyright becomes more of an issue. Many stamp, die and stencil companies have Angel Policies that dictate how their products may be used. Digital craft designers tend to rely far more on traditional copyright.
Copyright is automatically given to a designer – no fee needs to be paid, but there is also no official record beyond that which an artist keeps themselves. The old way of doing this was posting a copy to oneself and leaving it sealed in an envelope with the postmark on it. In the days of digital design though, file creation dates have become vital, but can be corrupted. We suggest backing up with a screenshot or a day book of design.
Copyright means you cannot copy, disassemble, distribute nor sell the design as your own.
Licence is the right to produce a design of another; whether in its original form or applied onto another surface. It does not transfer copyright to you in any degree or measure, and unless stated specifically, it does not give you the right to alter or amend the work.
For the purposes of this article, we are looking as you as the end user. These are just a few of the processes we use to keep ourselves safe. If you are a designer, there will be a separate article for you in the near future. Please remember: we are not legal professionals; if you have a particular concern you should contact a solicitor or other legal representative.
Tip 1: Licensing & Known Copyright
Licensing is how copyright is handled where you wish to produce the work of others. You can pay for a licence in order to produce someone else’s design. You cannot use a licence to create your own design or a version/derivative of the licensed image. Some designers will enable you to create derivative works (modifying their design) through Creative Commons; which came about through the design industry attempting to modernise copyright so it could align with open source coding.
There is no such thing as a licensed file for Disney where you are able to sell. This is the same for Marvel, Warner Bros etc and even if there were; they would be prohibitively expensive for a hobbyist. Unless you source your file from the company directly, be very cautious about using them. These companies employ people specifically for trawling social media and the internet looking for violations; and that’s aside of trading standards (UK) and their global equivalents.
Where crafters struggle, is when products endorse the use of copyright material; such as licensed stamps or papers and even the Disney cartridges and downloads for electronic cutters. None of these explicitly give you the right to produce items for sale (either for profit nor charity) and we would advise against posting your makes online.
Tip 2: Marketplaces are NOT designers
When you use websites such as Designbundles.net it is always wise to air a healthy side of skepticism. If something feels too good to be true, it usually is.
Websites like this do not design the files that they sell they are simply a source of a hosting platform for the files. It is also worth noting that they do not vet every file as to where they originate from. However, most platforms will instead give you a direct link to the designer, and we recommend contacting the designer of the file prior to purchase if you have a specific use in mind.
Marketplaces typically offer a generic licence for personal, commercial uses; however, this may not align with what the designer intended.
Tip 3: The onus is on you!
As the end user of the files you download you need to be checking the validity of the file. You also need to be checking the terms and conditions of any design software or platforms.
If you cannot get a response from a designer through the marketplace, it may be they no longer keep an active account. You must therefore reach out in other ways; you must be able to prove you tried many avenues to do due diligence.
Read the small print
It is not just everybody else’s designs you have to worry about. Have you checked the small print of your design software and online platforms recently? If you read the small print, that online design platform you use may claim copyright of your work just because its created on their platform; even though its your photo you used, and you drew the design. Some will state if you use their in-built designs then they (rightly) have copyright; but others claim anything you design in their software to belong to them.
While it has yet to have been tested in a court of law, it is better to be safe than sorry. Try to keep paper copies of designs (especially those showing development of a piece); this serves as a record of your design existing outside of their tools.
Tip 4: Google image search
It is always prudent to check other places you can find the file; especially if you cannot contact the designer through marketplace or other means. This can bring to light the file elsewhere; meaning the original marketplace listing was not legitimate OR the new item you have found may be someone charging for a file they have downloaded. It can be tricky in this situation to figure out the truth. Date of origination can help, but you can also evaluate a designers style to see if there is a theme.
You can do a Google Image Search from any PC or Mac; so long as you have an image to go to. This could be thumbnail from the marketplace for instance.
If you don’t have an image, you can still search by file title; this isn’t as accurate and may call up similar named files and may be hoodwinked by those changing titles to avoid detection.
If you find an Etsy listing, a link to an online shop or the designers page and it doesn’t mention the marketplace, the file or download may not be legitimate on the original marketplace.
If you do find the file elsewhere, it doesn’t mean the marketplace is necessarily wrong
Always contact the designer to check if the file is legitimate; and to check if your intended use is authorised by them. If the file is to be purchased, you may want to check that the designer does receive loyalties from your chosen platform.
Tip 5: Buy from the source
Finally, always buy your files direct from the original designer, if possible. By doing this you are guaranteed to have a legitimate file and licence; and you will be certain of what you can do with that file.
If you have tried all of the above, then please at least give recognition to the original artist; such as “inspired by”, “adapted from”, etc. Also, you should avoid posting these files on direct competitors’ groups and forums.