I’ve been thinking about DMCA in Second Life just recently because of something that happened to one of my graphics. Without going into too much detail, someone took a logo I had done for their organization, ripped it apart and created a new logo and called it their own.
People assume they can do whatever they want to a graphic once they “buy” it in Second Life. The problem with this is that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act prevents this action. You are purchasing a license to that graphic and can used it only in accordance with the Terms of Service provided by that designer. Unless the designer signs a special contract in which they sign away their rights IN WRITING, they retain the copyright to that graphic. In other words: No written contract, no copyright transfer. I may not be able to do anything about the present actions with my previously designed logo due to financial constraints, but I can at least use this event as a learning experience both for myself and to help others avoid the same issue that I have experienced with the appropriation of my artistic work product. Below are some tips to help you understand DMCA and some links for more information concerning copyright law and graphic designers.
Unless the designer signs a special contract in which they sign away their rights IN WRITING, they retain the copyright to that graphic.
- Never do anything for free without a contract. Whether you are giving your work to a friend or family or doing a Pro Bono piece for an organization or group, do a standard written agreement. The reason is that this is your graphic – your logo – your work product. It has value as the product of your artistic talent and skill. You need to protect yourself and your client needs to know exactly what rights they have in order to protect themselves. This way everyone knows what rights they have or don’t have and there is less chance of a future misunderstanding.
- Learn what the basic copyright laws are for graphic designers and how DMCA laws apply to you.
- Make sure you use metadata in your work. Embed a special watermark somewhere in the graphic that won’t be noticed without knowing it is there. This way if some or all of your work is split up or used in other graphics or logos, you can prove it
- Not everyone is honest. Learn to recognize when someone is using you. If they want more than a few logos for free, then they are using you. After five logos, say no more or request payment. Your work is valuable. Your designs are yours and your time is valuable. Remember there are people who will use you for your work and then toss you away later. So, protect yourself and make sure you don’t do more than is reasonable for free work.
- Remember that your work is automatically copyrighted as soon as you create it or you take that picture. It is your work. No one has any rights to that work until or unless you sign those rights away. Keep all original work files and try to make sure they are timestamped and that the graphics are watermarked and have metadata imbeds to prove ownership. I usually label each file with the date that it is created and each graphic has my RL name and copyright embedded in it (yes, even way back in 2011, as that is the first thing that we learned in graphic school). I also make two copies of the work file when I’m finished. One copy is for updates. The other copy is to have it timestamped in properties for when it was created as an extra protection.
- AIGA: The Professional Association for Designers article: Copyright Basics for Graphic Designers
- AIGA: The Professional Association for Designers article: Intellectual Property: What does “Work for Hire” mean for Designers? http://www.aiga.org/aiga/content/tools-and-resources/gain-journal/intellectual-property-what-does-work-for-hire-mean-for-designers/
- How to file a DMCA with Second Life: https://secondlife.com/corporate/dmca.php
- https://www.copyrighted.com/ This website allows you to upload your work and have it timestamped. You can upload full files, copyright websites and more. They will store a copy on their servers that you can retrieve at a later date. It will timestamp the item so if you need it for a lawsuit, you can pull it up and have proof that it is your work.
- https://vlany.org/artist-membership/ And finally, if you find that you need a lawyer and you are an artist, with very little money, there are lawyers who will help you. Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts is a group of lawyers found across the nation who help artists/graphic designers and other people in the art community with law issues to protect themselves, since this is not a new event and probably won’t be the last time an artist is taken. There is a fee to joining their group if they consider you have a strong case, but $200 compared to thousands of dollars is a lot easier to manage.
When I started this blog post, my goal was to use what happened to me as a teaching tool and express the frustration that I personally experience when I see people who don’t understand basic copyright and how it works. It is unbelievably frustrating when you see someone take your work and claim it as their own. I’ve learned a valuable lesson out of this including a reminder that there are some people out there who will use you for all of your skills and then when they don’t need your skills anymore, they will toss you aside. But above all, the most valuable lesson I learned out of this was to make sure there’s always a written agreement of some kind that declares the rights assigned to the work that I do and what the client can and can’t do with it after. These are valuable lessons to learn and lessons that I learned the hard way. I’m not losing heart or quitting. I am not the first designer to be taken advantage of and I won’t be the last. But with the above tips in mind perhaps my experience can help protect another graphic designer, whether in SL or in RL.