What to Do When Someone Steals Your Creative Work

You need a strategy to deal with your hard work being stolen

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There's an immediate gut-level freakout when you realize someone has stolen your creative work. The time, effort, blood, sweat and tears that go into making sure your work is released to your satisfaction seems wasted when someone comes in, looks at your designs, content and ideas and begins to pass them all off as their own.

In this Internet age, this isn't an aberration, it's a common occurrence. The Internet is, after all, one giant copying machine.

But once you get past the heartache of the theft, you need a plan. Once stolen, there's no getting it back. You need a strategy to move past this.

1) Demand that the material get taken down. Skip the email. Get on the phone. Ask to speak to the owner and explain that the material they are showing is yours and you can prove it. Don't ask for an apology, but explain that if the material isn't taken down today, they will be hearing from your lawyers. This isn't an idle threat: It's your stuff, you need to back it up. The goal isn't to get into a time machine and take things back to before the theft, but to stem the bleeding.

2) Go social. Tell your fans about what happened. You don't have to name the perpetrator (unless they refuse to take it down), but explain what happened. Your fans like hearing about how hard you work for them and will take your side. Seeing the perils of being an artist reminds your fans why your work is valuable. Refrain from asking them to play vigilante and post things to their website. You need to stay on the high road.

3) Remember that while you put days, weeks and months into your creative work, the value isn't the work itself. The value is in you, and your ability to create more work, to learn from what you're doing so that the next piece is even better. I can steal the Mona Lisa, but since it's not my work, I can't pretend I can paint something just as amazing. The work is of limited value to others who would steal it.

In this world, where we can research everyone else's work with a click, you can't expect to keep your work secure. Someone will steal it one day. It's just the cost of being an artist these days.

There's no denying that being stolen from is painful, but don't let that keep you from continuing to do great work. Doing more great work really is the best revenge.

James Ellis is a Chicago-area digital strategist with Google Analytics certification. That said, he still thinks he can sing. You can get in touch with James at saltlab.com to tell him how many ways he's wrong.

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