Inktober: Are Digital Artists Inked out?

For the last ten years, Inktober has been a highlight for many aspiring digital artists. However, a growing number of online content creators have begun to walk away from this annual tradition.

In 2009, Jake Parker, an online comic artist, began what is now known as “Inktober.” Inktober is a challenge for artists to draw and post one piece of art every day for the entire month of October. Its goal is to help online artists improve their artistic stamina, commitment, and skills. Inktober came about just as social media platforms like Deviant Art and Instagram began their surge in popularity among artistic content creators. Since then, this challenge has attracted thousands of participants across the globe, ranging from the most beginner artists to verified Instagram users.

However, in 2019, Parker trademarked the term “Inktober.” While he claims that the Inktober challenge itself is still free, Parker failed to inform the 2019 participants of his trademark, leaving many artists uncertain about whether their content is affected. The art community was outraged as numerous participants shared the cease and desist notices they received a few months after participating in the 2019 Inktober. Parker has since publicly requested that all other artists refrain from using the Inktober logo. Following a very quiet 2020 Inktober, it is safe to assume many artists are no longer participating in the annual challenge.

In addition to the trademarking of Inktober, recent updates in the terms of user agreement on platforms such as Instagram have pushed content creators to their limit.

Social media has always been a double-edged sword for original content creators. It offers artists a platform to reach hundreds of thousands of viewers at the click of button, meaning that artists are no longer geographically bound. In other words, these social media platforms have exponentially increased the opportunities for amateur artists to share their work with viewers from across the globe with little to no monetary costs. However, the terms of agreements may pose more serious consequences than originally perceived.

Let’s take Instagram as an example.

Under the general terms of use, the section “Permissions You Give to Us” explicit states:

“when you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights (like photos or videos) on or in connection with our Service, you hereby grant  to us a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content.”

This user agreement further states that you can end the license at any time by deleting your account; however, any content that has already been shared and replicated will not be removed. This is just one example of the challenges to IP security for digital artists posed by new technology.

While copyright is intended to protect an owner’s claim to original works, social media has made it increasingly difficult to do so. Many digital art creators have struggled to protect their work online, and due to the scale of the internet, it is nearly impossible to track down each fraudulent copy of your work to send cease and desist notices, which may or may not be effective. While we may see an increase in individual artists applying for trademarks through the legal framework offered by IP law, the alternative may be a shift away from online sharing.

Inktober is already set on a steady decline, is social media as a platform for sharing art next?

Written by Adele Zhang. Adele is a contributing IPilogue editor interested in the intersection between IP law and sports, and technology.

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