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Submitted on
December 16, 2010


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In a particular art-theft report fiasco that my friend had to experience, I decided to clarify what it means to be an art thief.  This is a hot topic it seems.  Everyone's on a red alert for art thieves these days:

At thieves come in different forms and motivations.

:star: An art thief is someone who posts another artist's work and gives PROBABLE CAUSE for others to potentially ASSUME that they were the -original creator- of the artwork. :star:

There are four types of thieves that fall into this definition.  Let's call them Type A ("Photobucket/Google Image") thieves, Type B ("Altering") thieves, Type C ("Trace/Copy") thieves, and the most malicious kind, Type D ("Identity Theft") thieves.

A Type A Thief (aka. "Photobucket" Thief):

• Comes to DeviantART thinking it's like Photobucket or MySpace, and they post their personal favorite Google Search images because they want to show off their favorite work, while participating in DeviantART as a community.  The images usually still have watermarks, and have not been resized or edited.  They don't know any better, and they don't know how to navigate the site.  They don't have much experience on the site, so they are not as familiar with the rules.  These thieves come in two types as well.  Just like there are benign tumors and malignant tumors, we have Type A-I thieves, and Type A-II thieves.

•• Type A-I Thief / (aka. "Sorry, I Didn't Know Any Better!"):

- Confuses DA with Photobucket.  The minute they realize they made a boo-boo, they immediately apologize for the confusion and take down the image.  This is a benign thief.  They meant no harm, and they simply were naïve.

•• Type A-II-i Thief / (aka. "I'll Post Whatever I Feel Like, TYVM")

-  Uses DeviantART AS a Photobucket, even after being alerted it's against the rule.  The minute a Type 1-A-I Thief learns the rules, and then decides to say "Screw it, I don't want to delete my gallery because I LIKE the pieces there," they become a Type 1-A-II.  This type of thief will ignore comments to take down the images, and refuse to believe they did anything wrong by minding their own business and not claiming they did the work.  In their view, they are innocent art appreciators, and in the eyes of the community, they are guilty art thieves.  This type of user is a malignant thief.  However, things could be worse.  Much worse.  At least they're still aware they didn't actually MAKE the work, and they didn't go out of their way to confuse people about ownership of the copyright.  However, their gallery of Photobucket-like images is still against DA policy, and they are well aware of it, but they're still risking it.

There even two kinds of Type A-II thieves. Type A-II-a thieves (aka "I'll use DA as my Photobucket" thieves) post the images without claiming credit, but usually don't edit the images and refuse to take them down.  But there's are STRAINS of them that are the -dangerous- kinds.  The kinds that -get away- with posting other's artwork AND EDIT the artwork.

Those that EDIT existing arwork are classified under Type B thieves:

A Type B Thief / (aka. "I Altered Yours, So That Makes It Mine"):

• These thieves are special because they believe they own the rights to PARTS of the image.  They think that if a section of the image is altered, then that small PART of the image belongs to them.  They think the -idea- of the image is theirs.

Type B Thieves come in three types:

•• Type B-I Thief / (aka. "But I Changed the Hair Color, So it Makes It My OC!")

- Uses DeviantART as their Roleplaying database.  Whether or not they realize that posting an original piece by someone else is against policy, they FIRMLY believe that if they change the hair color, clothes color, or general overlayed outfit on a fan art or existing screenshot, then it makes the image their own.  If the character is meant to look like Sasuke, because he's Sasuke's long-lost-twin-brother-who-was adopted-into-ROOT-but-trained-by-Madara-and-Superman-and-Batman-and-joins-the-Teen-Titans, then it makes the character theirs.  After all, how else can people envision their particular version of Sasuke's twin's clone's brother's car dealer's mother's former college roommate's jedi master's youngest star ninja pupil of Konoha?  (Unfortunately, these are some of the most common thieves, and the most gray-lined thieves that get away with what they're doing.  In general, if they choose to draw over a screenshot or someone who is not on DA, they get away with it more often than if they draw over an existing DeviantART user's artwork.  This, makes them some of the most malignant thieves on DA.  They're a kind of malignant tumor thief that continues to grow, and if everyone on DA did this, it'd be the end of art as we know it.)

•• Type B-II Thief / (aka. "I Edited Your Image / Dialogue to Make It Even Better!")

- Usually familiar with DeviantART's posting process, they're searching for material to fill their empty galleries, and they immediately think of artwork that they like, but they feel could be even better.  So, two different images of characters are spliced so they they look like they're kissing. Or maybe one is now angry, when originally he/she was happy.  Or maybe they're SAYING something different, with an altered speech bubble.  Or maybe the color palette is changed a bit, to portray more emotion.  Or maybe the image is cropped differently, to give better layout.  Or this, or that, or this.  In essence, the image is altered for the "better" however the user imagines it, or wishes it to be.  These thieves also come in two forms: the kind that are willing to delete the images, and the kind that are not willing to.  Either way, they are very conscious of the edits they made to the piece.  These thieves are usually benevolent.  They usually don't mean any harm in it, and they hope their work isn't reported, because they honestly believe their version should get some exposure for being an even better improvement on an already good piece.  However, they're a gray-lined area.  It technically is thievery, but in cases like this, if they contacted the original artist for permission, the original artist may potentially be okay with it.

•• Type B-III Thief / (aka. "Character Bashing", or "This Mustache Shows How Much I Hate You, Sakura"):

- I wouldn't even bother mentioning these kinds of thieves, because they're so innately obviously going to be reported, but there are those who also post artwork that is edited for the pure trolling lulz of "character bashing."  They grab artwork, they defile it, and post it to feel better about themselves, with the intention of getting others to laugh a bit.  In this case, the user would not be confusing DeviantART with Photobucket, but rather, 4-chan.  The good news is that character supporters immediately jump on this kind of thievery and report it en masse.  It gets removed fairly quickly.

A Type C Thief / (aka. "If I Trace It, Copy It, or Color It, It's Like I Made It!"):

• A FOREWARNING:  As a word for the wise, it is NOT against DA policy to submit traces of artwork, and so therefore Type C "thieves" are a very gray-lined area.  It seems that the community has established an unwritten rule of thumb:

**  It is OKAY to trace and/or reference copy OFFICIAL PUBLISHED AND LICENSED artwork without permission** and, ** It is NOT OKAY to trace and/or reference FAN artwork without permission**

However counter-intuitive it all seems, that's just how DA community policy works.  

There are two kinds of Type C Thieves:

• Type C-I Thief / (aka. "The Vector/Line/Trace Artist"):

- They're everywhere, and admit it, you have at -least- one or two manga traces in your favorites somewhere.  It's very tempting to favorite a trace or vector of a chapter cover, especially.  The more "official" the artwork is, the more likely you'll accept when someone takes it and makes a bootleg copy of it.  After all, it's higher resolution, it's cleaned lines, and holy moley, look at all the people COLORING IT!  I feel bad even mentioning these artists, because these artists aren't technically art thieves here on DA.  However, the ISSUE of these artists has been a LONG drawn-out debate among the community.  I still remember when DA made the announcement that traces were allowed, and ALL the buzz that flew around both pro- and anti-tracing.  Because traces are SO controversial, the community has grudgingly accepted traces of official work, but still JUMPS on the first line artist that comes along and tries to vectorize a fan artwork.  In almost all cases, I'd say just leave these guys alone, or you'll get half of DA siding against you, no matter which stance you take.  Unless they vectorize fan art.  Oh God, have mercy on his/her poor soul if that's the case.

• Type C-II Thief / (aka. "The Amazing Colorist!"):

- I feel like I'm stating the obvious here.  There are users who love to color official manga pages/panels.  However, that's against DA policy.  So this is where we meet another SUPER GRAY LINE.  This is like, the super mega ridiculous gray line of all of DA that could swallow all other gray lines into a giant vortex.  Here's the deal:  You ARE NOT ALLOWED to color OFFICIAL manga panels, but you ARE ALLOWED to color the TRACES of the official manga panels.  So, this is where the giant vortex of thievery comes in.  People HAVE TO trace the panel in order to color it.  An unnecessary first step, for what purpose?!  In the end, it looks like a colored manga panel!  But NO, if it's a regular colored manga panel, then it's AGAINST DA policy.  That makes you an ART THIEF.  Only if you trace the lines, can the image be considered your own.  Figure that one out.   My advice is, have pity on the poor souls who don't realize this extra little DA "step" they have to take in order to be within legal limits of deviation submission.  It's VERY common for people on forums sites to color official manga panels, so it's a bit difficult for them to understand that even though they MEAN WELL by submitting colored manga panels here, it's against policy unless they find a vector artist willing to help them out.  Nevertheless, it's against DA policy.  Manga colorings are an example of art theft.  But it's totally okay if they're colored traces.

• Type C-III Thief / (aka. "I Referenced This," and/or "This Is My Version Of Your Drawing"):

- This artist is usually (but not always) a starting amateur artist who comes to DeviantART, is inspired by other artists, and tries to develop their own drawing style by sourcing from artists they enjoy.  This usually means doing a drawing study by re-drawing existing artwork.  The artwork that they source from can be either official artwork, or fan artwork.  It doesn't matter, as long as they can study the style of it, and get familiar with the gestures of it.  Ultimately, the up-and-coming artist is left with a nice piece they're very proud of, so they post it to their gallery as a way of showing off their developing skills and hoping for positive feedback.  The good news for these artists is that they usually get a "ping" of some sort by the community... a momentary "grace period" of sort to properly credit the original source... but if they don't respond back ASAP and change their description, then sh-t could really hit the fan.  The "ping" is usually from what I term as being a "scout", a fan of the original artist who recognizes the work and usually leaves a comment like "It would be nice if you credited the original artist" and often times leaves a link to the original artist as a favor to the amateur n00b.  This is where Type-C-III thieves get split into two different categories:

Type-C-III-a Thieves:  These are the artists that immediately change their description to link to the original artist if anyone discovers that they haven't linked to a source.  Many times, they didn't realize that they forgot to provide a link, or they forgot to, so by simply "pinging" them to put a link in there, they'll put a link in ASAP.  They never meant to cause harm, and they posted the work as a tribute to their favorite artwork and as a display of pride in their own developing drawing skills.  They don't want to upset anyone, so they're more than happy to give a link.  It's preferable they link to the original ARTWORK, but most often times, they don't bother to go that far, and usually when the original artist is referred to the thief, the original artist is happy enough to get whatever credit he/she can, and may even make a nice comment on the user's page to give a little encouraging support, even if they're not entirely 100% happy with having their artwork referenced.  After all, it's a team effort and a community on the site, so we're all trying to work together as a big family, right?  Well, people may still report this kind of user anyway, jumping the gun because they assume they might in fact be a Type-C-III-b thief, which brings me to my next category:

Type-C-III-b Thieves:  This category of thief is what I consider to be a "Third-Degree Identity Thief." This person is -consciously- unwilling to link to the original art source or artist.  He/she chooses NOT to, because it'll make people think that they aren't as good as they claim to be at drawing.  It's the first category in my entire list of potential art thief categories that I would consider to be a real threat to the original artist.  So, I'm going to copy and paste the idea of this kind of thief and, instead, re-label this kind of thief as the first of the TYPE-D class of art thieves.


Let me start this out by saying, Type D Thieves DON'T survive on DeviantART for long.  If you're a Type D, you WILL get journals written about you, by either the original artists, the fans of the artists, or even both.  You'll probably also get your name submitted to some art-thief murdering community, and you'll probably get the heavens and universe and ban-hammer all slamming down on you at the same time.  You may go into it thinking it's funny, but it's exhausting.  Even trolls get exhausted after a while, which is why the more severe instances of this are very rare, and DANGEROUSLY ILLEGAL.  Kids, don't try this at home.

• Type D-I Thief / (aka. "Third-Degree Art Thief," or "It May LOOK almost EXACTLY Like Sharingan-Devil's Piece, But My Image Is Totally Original!"):

Here's the situation of the thief:  the amateur artist decided to reproduce a piece that they liked, decided that because they redrew it, it's their own artwork and they own the copyright to it, and they post it claiming it to be theirs, while CONSCIOUSLY not giving credit to the original artist.  The image itself is not the same medium as the original, so people who stumble upon it may end up being confused, quite sure that they've seen the image SOMEWHERE before, but not entirely sure WHERE.  So, until they can go out of their way to figure out who the original artist or source art is supposed to be, they grit their teeth and ponder over it.  (This, by the way, is the first motive one has to writing a journal.  People source to the image, ask if they've seen it before, and if anyone can place who the original source artist is).  Often times, the artist will reply to comments claiming to be the original artist of it (as is with ALL the cases of Type D art thieves).  After all, they drew it.  And, they never give credit to the original artist EVER.  It's a little hard to take down these particular thieves because it's sometimes difficult to locate the original source image, and often times, people don't even realize there IS a source image out there, and the thieves are off the hook indefinitely.  However, this is most certainly a Third-Degree Identity art theft.  Somewhere out there, the real artist is NOT getting credit for the work they did, and worse, not getting EXPOSURE for what they did.  The exposure instead is being given to someone who refuses to share it with the original artist.  If I were the original artist, I'd be pissed as heck.  That's a classic art thief.

• Type D-II Thief / (aka. "Second-Degree Art Thief / "But I Made The Original.  I Don't Care If NT-Devont Already Posted It.  It was Mine To Begin With"):

I'll keep this short and simple.  This is what happens when a classic case of a"Photobucket" Type-A Art Thief becomes possessed by THE DEVIL.  This is someone who honestly THINKS... they THINK they can get away with this monstrosity of an idea, that they can post EXACT copies of the original artwork, and use their limited Photoshop skills to ERASE THE WATERMARK, and in many cases, REPLACE THE WATERMARK WITH THEIR OWN SIGNATURE.  There . is. a . reason. for. watermarks!!!  The fact that the thief went in to ERASE the watermark, and REPLACE the watermark is a form of identity thief.  Not just that, but EXPOSURE thief!  Imagine if some DA soul came to the page, really liked the art, didn't know who the original artist was, and LEGITIMATELY WAS FOOLED into thinking that the thief was the original artist?  What if the poor soul went to a forum and POSTED it?  And other poor souls would then be completely confused as to who really made it!  It's not FAIR to the artist.  This isn't just about not giving exposure.  This is about taking AWAY exposure.  This is not just robbing them of their artwork, but robbing them of potential FANS!  The watermark is there to at least insure some kind of security in case a Type A "Photobucket" artist comes onto DA and doesn't know any better.  But a Type D-II thief DOES know better.  They do it so they can experience the rush and thrill of being a talented artist, and receiving an inbox of praise, faves, and a whole supply watchers.  At the same time, though, this type of artist is delusional.  They often don't realize HOW. FAST. the fan base .WILL. discover them, and it will NOT be a pretty sight.  For however many lost poor DA naive souls there are who can be fooled by it, there WILL BE HUNDREDS MORE who DO know better, and they make it their mission not only to flame the art thief's deviation page and their profile page, but they reply to EVERY COMMENTER who -was- fooled by it, to source the original artist and clarify the true ownership of the artwork.   I don't know what the art thief would be thinking to truly attempt a misdemeanor of this sort, but it DOES happen.  And they very quickly realize that it's only sparkles and rainbows for the couple dozen pageviews, before it quickly turns into a giant roasting pot of flames.  Because of this, we can only suspect that TROLLS attempt this crazy feat.  No sane person could withstand such heat from the community without having some kind of meltdown.

But even THAT case scenario isn't as bad as this ultimate one, which is the king of all Art Thievery, to the point that it's beyond that.  It's worth suing over:

Type D-III Thief / (aka. "Identity Thief" and/or "Hi, I'm AnauchihaD!  I Just Moved Accounts!")

This is the WORST situation for an artist AND a thief to be in.  There's NO mercy here.  The sky will not only fall, but it will rain hammers and shards of glass into the eyeballs of the thief.  It's bloody, it's not pretty, and the worst part is people LOVE to participate in this kind of drama.  To an art thief hunter, this is like the smell of blood to sharks.  A Type D-III thief is someone who posts an ENTIRE GALLERY based on ONE ARTIST'S WORK.  And on top of that, they claim to BE the original artist.  They "moved accounts", and this is their "new" account.  And, until the original artist gets wind of what's going on, they can pretend to BE the person for whatever window of time they might have.  It's a momentary thrill of stepping into someone else's shoes for a day.  Or an hour.  Or 10 minutes.   Or however long, really.  Until the original, official artist signs online and publicly states that they're NOT the impostor, the impostor/identity thief will run rampant in the community. This is the classic case of art thief that will almost GUARANTEED get a journal entry written about them by someone.  And they are GUARANTEED to be hunted down and banished from the face of DA.  And not just DA.  This often happens OFF of DA.  This is the reason why watermarks are SO important, because the identity thief will go to a site like and make a username based on an existing artist, and submit their entire gallery, and PRETEND TO BE THE ARTIST WHO DECIDED TO OPEN AN ACCOUNT ON ANOTHER SITE.  They get away with it!  It's more than just a window of time.  It's a whole set of time, really.  The more unfamous the original artist is, the longer the thief can continue to prance around in the original artist's shoes.  This is TERRIBLE.  Absolutely revolting.  Especially if they interact with other people and give other people some kind of IMPRESSION of how the original artist is.  I'm not even going to say it's not fair to the original artist here.  It's more than that. It's unfair to the entire COMMUNITY when something like this happens.  It's the worst kind of theft that can possibly happen.  I hold no remorse for this kind of thief.  Nobody does.  Not one single person in the entire world holds remorse for this kind of thief, so you can bet there will be an ARMY of people out to rip the thief to shreds.  It'd almost be a beautiful sight if not for all the digital blood XD  So a word to the wise, don't be an identity thief.  Not a good idea.  Not a good idea at all.  Watermarks are there for a reason.  Respect the original artist.


So in closing, I want to say that I'd RATHER be either a naive Type-A "Photobucket" deviant, or a Type-C-III-a "Reference with a link the original artist and drawing" deviant.

I'd also like to establish that if you get an artist's permission to do anything, then you're totally free to do whatever you want.  I mean, dude, if an artist tells you it's totally okay for you to steal their identity, man, GO for it.  All they have to do is write a journal saying "I'm moving accounts" while linking to your fake account and voila, you're a legal art thief!
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Emperor-Zinyak Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I remember I drew my dog (he recently died 3 months ago) on dA muro back in probably 2012 and some thief had stolen it she was a Type A II-i thief. She then re-uploads it to her "possible" backup account. Seriously I have proof that he is mine because I have photos and other drawings of him. :no:
morganjent4 Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I do manga colorings but I always have a separate layer for the lines I did...I never color on the original. Most of the time I draw them out on paper first (looking at the computer screen and drawing them out) then trace over the drawing I did. After reading this I feel bad just doing that. Coloring them is quite fun...but this makes me not want to do it anymore. I mainly do it just to get people on my deviantART to look at my original stuff...but they never get noticed. I think I'll just quit the manga colorings all together now.
CynFinnegan Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Well, when I say that I'm reposting something from my old account, I mean I'm reposting things that I'd originally posted on my old account, which I closed after eight years.  I do revise old drawing, and yes, I occasionally use tracing paper when I do and usually to correct features, proportion or positioning.  If that makes me an art thief, then so be it.  I'm only "stealing" from myself.
chokingames Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
not sure if you still read these, but i like your writing style in this. descriptive, formidable and fun!
Pavitpanag Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2013
someone made a fake account of sandara. the type D-III
LPS100 Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2013  Student General Artist
I remember in "watching" 2 Deviants have the Type D-III Thief and, one of them which got that type of Thief was ~WoodenToaster, while the another I don't remember the name~

But, I remember my friend, ~Dat-Lil-Filly linking me to two sites which stole my Artwork.

That's the only thief I've got, two sites stealng my and another people's artwork, no more Art Thief stole my work :S
Citycreek Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Some sites steal my artwork, and claim it as their own, even though they keep the watermark and everything. XD
ToddNTheShiningSword Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I had a comic I made a few years ago that I posted. In it, there's a group of security guards bugging the main character, and one of them looks just like Garfield's mailman because I referenced him very heavily to draw those panels.

So basically, even though the entire comic is completely original and made by me, because one of the security guards looks a lot like Garfield's old mailman and I didn't give the credit for my work to Jim Davis, then that mean's my whole comic counts as a stolen piece of art?
This is that comic example. The guard in question stands out pretty good in that old comic of mine, now that I look at him again... ^^;
ToddNTheShiningSword Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I think the word thief gets thrown around just slightly too much. If using another artist's work as a drawing reference gets you onto this list, then everybody's a thief except for the person who traces a published manga and then colors it. :XD:

Like, what if someone uses another work as a pose or anatomy reference? A human could easily just assume that pose anyway, but you probably wouldn't be able to get anyone to pose for you. An artist can't own a pose. If you draw a person in a certain pose, you own the picture and the idea, but you don't own the pose or own human anatomy, so if the person just used your picture as their pose reference, why should they act like their picture belongs to you? If they were drawing your person, that's one thing, but if they're drawing their own character, and their character is in the same pose as yours, why are they a thief? 
EtherealValentine Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I agree with you here.
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