Artists and Social Media – an Uneasy Relationship

Artists around the world have fully embraced social media as a new professional and personal communications tool. In the midst of the excitement that social media has to offer, do artist overlook the threats of piracy or unlawful use in favour of a possibility of selling their art?

Social media offers an easy way for anyone to showcase oneself to the world, find inspiration and market and sell one’s work. As social media blurred the borders and united people internationally, art became interactive. The vibrant and diverse world of social media allowed everyone to share ideas and images, and co-create. Constant interactivity and access to information created a new way of existence, where anyone can find, proclaim and show anything. These days, artists and designers can preview hundreds and thousands of ideas and styles in limited time and with little effort. And they can effortlessly communicate to their collaborators and fans around the world. Social media is widely credited with boosting artists’ creativity and fuelling their talent.

But there is another side to this world – the one that can leave an artist too exposed to criticism, judgment and blunt copying of his or hers work. More and more people start blaming social media for over-exposure, ideas theft and increased social negativity. Some artists find that social media limits their ability to create new ideas because the ‘shares’, ‘likes’, and ‘comments’ distract them from the real creative process. More and more people call for a balanced use of the social media websites. And when it comes to original art online, there is a fine line between using someone’s work as an inspiration and stealing one’s ideas.

Nowadays, most social networks allow users to upload artwork without any restrictions on the quality and the ownership of the original artwork. Re-posting and re-blogging images is done without any thought to the legal implications of taking someone’s work without permission and sharing it with others. Every time I upload some of my works online I question whether my idea behind this work could be stolen.

Intellectual Property and copyright infringement have never been easy issues to grasp for any artist. Intellectual Property laws have become so complex that many artists are not sure what can be protected and under which laws – copyrights, trademarks or patents. And there is always an issue of appropriation art – can you build upon another’s work to create your own original piece? And if yes – does that constitute derivative work? And who decides what constitutes art and what is not? All artists are influenced by someone or something, be it a person, or an object, or another artist; so how would an ordinary viewer differentiate between two works which are similar but yet not quite the same? Art is subjective, and what makes it ‘good’ or ‘repetitive’ is left entirely to the viewer. As a result, a fine line between inspiration and copying is often crossed, and too often Intellectual Property in art business is left unprotected, without realizing its true value.

As famous Cariou v. Prince legal case shows (Cariou v. Prince, 714 F. 3d 694 (2d Cir. 2013)), the meaning of ‘fair use’ or ‘art appropriation’ can be interpreted differently by different people, resulting in huge divisions in the artistic community and complex legal proceedings with unpredictable outcomes.

Sharing copyrighted materials and stealing other’s design ideas remain among the important disadvantages of using social media websites by the artists. Some websites are looking at addressing this issue, either by disabling the ability to copy or save the images, or by providing specific sections for the copyrighted artwork (for example, and But it is important for any artist to fully understand the copyright issues related to his or hers work, and be very careful when sharing creative artwork through social media websites. More should be done to educate the artistic community about the Intellectual Property issues.

Whilst most of the artists still view social media as a very helpful tool of advancing their careers, the threats of piracy are unfortunately overseen in favour of a possibility of increasing sales or achieving fame. Potential of ‘being discovered’ overtakes Intellectual Property issues. There is a widespread concern regarding copyright and an unlawful use of work among the artistic community, but yet not many see the Intellectual Property breach and piracy as biggest threats to creative industries.

(The article first appeared as “An Artist’s Impression” in Intellectual Property Magazine in November 2017).