Proving Sprite Theft

Now you've made your sprites and are very proud of them, show them somewhere online - and after a while realize to your horror that some random idiot has taken your hard work and claimed it as his. A big mess is made, and the person ends up admitting the theft. You sigh, glad this is over.

But then it strikes you: What if it happens again? What if the person doesn't admit the theft then? What if you can't even prove it at all?

And then you rush to the Cave of Dragonflies because it's got a sprite theft avoidance guide.

Avoiding It Altogether

I'm sorry to say that there is only one foolproof, flawless way to completely avoid sprite theft, which is not to ever show them to anybody on the internet. Of course, most people wouldn't ever just stop showcasing their sprites, so that's out of the picture.

The only other way to prevent people from stealing one's sprites completely is to place some huge watermark on top of them that covers the whole sprite. Naturally, that pretty much ruins it so not a lot of people would ever do that either.

So I'm afraid you'll just have to deal with each type of art thieves individually.

The TOS-Breakers

They tend to be the most annoying art thieves, just because there are so many of them. They don't even qualify for actual art thieves; they just display other people's sprites (and other artwork, for that matter) without stating who made it (and in the case of artists who strictly don't want their work used even with credit, using them at all). You might even be an artist who doesn't mind creditless usage of your sprites, and then you can just skip this section.

Anyway, most TOS-Breakers are simply kids who don't really know copyright laws and think it's quite fine to put any cool pictures they find somewhere in their sigs or on their websites. If you tell them to give credit or remove the sprites (depending on whether you would prefer not to have your work displayed at all or just want it clear that it's yours), they will usually say sorry and do so.

What rules artists have about usage of their sprites can be various. Some spriters will divide their sprites into categories or have specific terms for some of them; others will simply have one rule for them all. The main permission levels are these:

  • Free use, where anybody can take them and use them for anything they want without credit, although obviously not claiming them as their own.
  • Give credit, where anybody can take them and use them for anything they want but must always give credit for it.
  • Get permission, where they can't be used for anything without your explicit permission.
  • Not to be used, where no use of the sprite is permitted at all.

Giving credit is the rule that is more or less always assumed by default; it's what most artists state and has become an unwritten norm for sprites. It is always best to ask if you don't see the person stating anything about usage, though - better to be safe than sorry.

Now, how to prevent TOS-Breakers from taking your sprites? The good thing about them is that they aren't deliberately stealing the sprites, so simply pointing out that you don't want your sprites used without credit will usually be enough. Put Terms of Use somewhere in a very clear place, at the start of your sprite thread or the top of your gallery (or even on a special page that must be viewed before entering the gallery), and explain carefully how you want your sprites used and how you do not want them used. It is good to make clear whether they can be edited or not, too. If you don't want your sprites used at all, you might even find a right-click protection script online, which will at least make it clear to all TOS-Breakers who don't bother to read Terms of Use that you don't want your sprites used. Of course, it won't stop any 'real' art thieves who know what they're doing.

Sometimes TOS-Breakers will find sprites online, believe they are official or that they can as well use them, and use them in sprite edits of their own. This is especially common for revamps of old sprites and sometimes for scratch sprites or pixel-overs. What is worse is that they tend to find the sprites through various image search engines, and thus never see the Terms of Use concerning them. To prevent this, it might be a good idea to put robot commands for not gathering the sprites for search engines in a sprite gallery's headers. A lot of forums have such commands on so that material posted there will not be listed.

However, unfortunately not all art thieves are simple TOS-Breakers. We also have the serious ones, those who are really pretending to own your work...

The Attention Thieves

The first thing you should do if you see somebody claiming your work as their own is, if it is at a forum, to register and post there; if it is at a website, to e-mail the webmaster. Don't yell or call the person names; just state that it is yours and ask them not to claim your work. If you're lucky, the art thief will just be some little kid desperate for attention and admiration, and will immediately remove your sprites, though perhaps with some excuses. Then that's usually the end of it, since most kids who want attention don't like being called thieves.

However, not everybody is that fortunate. The sprite thief might still claim it as theirs...

"You stole it from me!"

That excuse can be disproved if you have posted your sprites immediately after making them at forums, DeviantART or other places with a third-party timestamp. This will at least show that if the other person doesn't have an older timestamp on posting the sprite, the odds are definitely in your favor. For this reason, you should always post your sprites somewhere that has a timestamp immediately after making them.

If the person still claims to have made it long ago, or if you have not posted your sprite anywhere that has a timestamp (or the thread has been pruned, etc.), you could have a problem.

Which Sprite Is Stolen?

If you haven't made any security measures for your sprites, you'll have to go deep into it to prove which sprite was stolen.

Proving who stole a sprite, whether you're a moderator of a forum during an argument or an artist defending your own work, can be tedious. However, one thing to remember about sprite thieves is that they are never as good as the actual artist of the sprites they stole. This simplifies the problem enormously, because it means that a sprite is almost certainly stolen if:

  • the "artist" has reportedly stolen sprites before
  • it is saved as a .jpg, while the other is saved as a clear .gif or .png without artifacts
  • it has been resized
  • its body is colored differently from the other, but the outline is the same
  • the "artist" has not made sprite requests while the other has, or the "artist's" other requested sprites have obvious basic spriting flaws not in the stolen sprite, such as forgetting the outline when coloring in a different color, removing the shading or using the default Paint color palette
  • the "artist" has other sprites sprited in a completely different spriting style (often stolen from another artist)
  • it is a splice that appears to have been made from the other sprite; why would the art thief steal a part of a splice and then fill in the rest?

If any of this applies to one of the sprites, you can be pretty sure it is the stolen one.

"It's just a coincidence!"

This happens especially often with splices and revamps; they just say "Who is to say I didn't just happen to make it just like you did?" For more complicated splices or revamps where you have made scratch edits to the shading, it should be possible to convince some higher authority (such as the web host or a moderator) that it can't just be a coincidence and force the thief to admit the theft.

Nonetheless, if the sprite really is simple enough to have possibly been made by somebody else, you honestly can't prove it as yours - and in fact, it might not be yours at all.

Security Measures

Now, if you want to be sure to recognize your sprites, just putting your signature on them won't do, since the other person might erase it. However, there is a way.

Scratch edits. If you make scratch edits to official sprites before you use them in your spritework, the art thief will most likely not notice it when stealing the sprite. You can, for example, go over the outline and remove any Dots, which will even make the sprite look better, or you can subtly change a few pixels of the shading as long as it still looks good. When you see a sprite of yours stolen, check if the scratch edits are there. If they are, it's definitely yours. Ask the thief what sprites they made it from, and afterwards you can point out the differences and show your edit, proving that their story is at the very least not quite accurate.

When revamping old sprites, you should always tweak the shading and outlining anyway, and if you did you should always be able to logically explain that placing thousands of colored pixels exactly like another person did is practically impossible.

I hope this has helped you to protect your art from sprite thieves. Anybody is welcome to contact me for help in proving ownership over their spritework; however, remember that even if you contact me I won't automatically be on your side if the evidence is against you.

Page last modified August 13 2016 at 02:34 UTC