Copyright in the Digital Age: A Vital Tool for Artists

Machine Translation: English
  • Name: Bob MacNeil
  • Country / Territory: United States of America
  • IP right(s): Copyright and Related Rights
  • Date of publication: March 10, 2011
  • Last update: March 6, 2015

Bob MacNeil, USA

Through traditional and digital mediums,
Mr. MacNeil has developed an impressive
portfolio (Photo: © Bob MacNeil)

Growing up in a family of professional and hobbyist artists, art was always part of Mr. Bob MacNeil’s life.  Surrounded by people who supported his creativity, he honed his imagination from comic books and science fiction movies, and from an early age could frequently be found concocting new artistic expressions. His earliest attempts at drawing came at the tender age of six, when he skillfully traced the cover of a comic book and decided that some additions were needed. So he added eight-pack abs to the super hero character. While the young Mr. MacNeil’s knowledge of anatomy might have been lacking, his artistic skills were already manifesting promise. About a year later in 1978, he saw an advertisement on television calling for artists to join a mail order art instruction course. With dreams that were perhaps bigger than his ability at the time, Mr. MacNeil completed the application, which included an art test. After sending it off, he anxiously awaited a reply. Unfortunately for the determined budding artist, he failed the test and the school told him that he did not have what it took to be an artist. Though not the response he was hoping for, it actually turned out to be just what he needed. Inspired to prove them wrong, Mr. MacNeil decided that he would become a famous artist and continued to develop his talents.

Mr. MacNeil continued to develop his skills, and in 1990 he started his studies in illustration and design at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art in New Jersey, the United States of America (USA). In 1991, he landed his first official job as an illustrator to produce a series of pen and ink images for a relative who owned a print shop. This early experience turned out to be invaluable, as it gave him the opportunity to work directly with a client while still studying. This first job quickly led to the development of his portfolio to a reasonable level – essential for any artist – and by the time he graduated Mr. MacNeil got his first job (without the aid of family or friends) designing kiosks for store installations and shopping malls. As his career progressed and technology became increasingly influential in art and media, Mr. MacNeil  taught himself digital art, which would eventually catapult his work to a new level and solidify his position as a highly sought after artist.

Research and development

While Mr. MacNeil was developing his career, the ushering in of the Internet and digital age drastically changed the landscape of the art industry. Recognizing that this was a powerful new tool that he had to take advantage of, Mr. MacNeil researched these new technologies and taught himself how to use digital art software. The emergence of this technology was extremely beneficial to Mr. MacNeil, as it allowed him to work at a quicker pace and editing became infinitely easier. With digital art tools and media, Mr. MacNeil has been able to create more works, easily circulate his art and build up his portfolio at a quicker pace.

However, Mr. MacNeil is the first one to point out that the traditional way of creating art cannot be underestimated. He remains a champion of first learning the foundations of art. “Those basic principles will set you apart from the masses,” he explained. “And, in the long run, your work will be much more rewarding.” Recognizing the necessity and benefits of both modern and traditional art methods, Mr. MacNeil tries to keep a mediated ground between the two mediums. “I began my career without ever having touched a computer,” he said. “I did so because I made it a point to learn the basics. You can’t build a house without a proper foundation.”

Mr. MacNeil works in a variety of styles,
which he seamlessly blends together
(Photo: © Bob MacNeil)

The Internet has also become a vital tool for Mr. MacNeil, and after researching the best course of action, he decided to create a website showcasing his work. For an artist such as himself, the Internet has had three main far-reaching benefits. First, it has given him the opportunity to work in a variety of industries regardless of his location. Mr. MacNeil lives in the state of New Jersey on the eastern coast of the USA, an area not necessarily a hotbed for the video game and animation industries in which he receives a majority of his work. The Internet made his location negligible, and “…has been invaluable in developing my portfolio – even beyond what I thought possible,” he explained. Second, it has been a very cost-effective way to expand his reach. “The traditional method of taking out expensive ads in circulated directories has been replaced by the ease of the Internet,” he said. The Internet has thus been a very cheap and easy way for Mr. MacNeil to show the world what he does.

Lastly, Internet exposure has brought Mr. MacNeil’s art to people all over the world, dramatically increasing his demographic and target audience. By learning how to design an appealing website, post his work in online stores and make exciting online videos, he has been able to reach millions of people all from his home in New Jersey. The consistent and professional approach to his online presence has brought in more opportunity than before, and has also served as an inspiration for budding artists throughout the world. The responses he receives from his website also help him develop his art, and are a great way to share his knowledge. He can frequently be found writing tutorials or giving tips through his website. In addition, potential clients and employers from anywhere can easily see his portfolio and contact him with only a few mouse clicks.

Mr. MacNeil’s research into digital media and the Internet and his strong foundation in traditional art methods has given him the skills and capability to handle just about any artistic challenge he may face. Because he dabbles in so many fields and has the experience to boot, all of his work is of equally high quality, no matter the genre or media vehicle.


Mr. MacNeil feels that copyright is an essential tool to an artist’s survival as it protects his creations and career. “I could not walk into a furniture store and walk out with a couch because no one claimed it as theirs,” said Mr. MacNeil. “Why should someone be able to do that with my artwork?”

IP infringement and enforcement

The "Patent Troll" character that was
infringed upon (Photo: © Bob MacNeil)

The importance of copyright especially reverberates with Mr. MacNeil because he has been the victim of intellectual property (IP) infringement. In early 2010, Mr. MacNeil was commissioned by a well known magazine to draw an illustration of a “Patent Troll” for an article. Ironically, the illustration was used by multiple infringers, some of which were the very defenders of IP themeselves, without Mr. MacNeil’s permission. When this came to his attention, he contacted the respective infringers and asked that they take the work down or appropriately acquire usage rights. All those contacted cooperated and either removed the illustration or compensated Mr. MacNeil for its use.

Seeing his work used in this way made Mr. MacNeil feel rather ambivalent. On one hand, he said that it was flattering for him that his work was seen as being better than some of the other examples of a “Patent Troll” available online. On the other hand, he put a lot of time and effort into the illustration, and it bothered him that someone felt that they could just use it for their own needs without any permission granted whatsoever.

Education into IP infringement is something that Mr. MacNeil feels is very important, especially in the art industry. There is a fine line between inspiration and copying which is often crossed. Being too inspired by another artist can mean that it is easy to unintentionally take on qualities of that artist’s work. In many cases, budding artists may then too closely copy the style of a more established artist (intentionally or unintentionally), and thus offer clients similar works at a much cheaper rate. Furthermore, those who commission copyrighted works often promote and support this sort of practice because they can get nearly the same product for less. Without educating those that perpetuate this problem, many established artists – who have spent years refining their craft and building a client base – face a significant threat to their livelihood. One way that Mr. MacNeil ensures he does not fall into this is by staying educated on IP issues and not pigeonholing himself into any particular style, which ensures his work remains diverse and original.

Business results

A multi-talented artist, Mr. MacNeil's
work encompasses many different
genres (Photo: © Bob MacNeil)

Traditional training and highly skilled use of digital media and the Internet has helped Mr. MacNeil become a truly multi-talented artist, equally skilled in a variety of fields from advertising and illustrating to animating and video games. Over the years he has created an impressive array of quality artwork, all of which are of the highest standard. Work with companies like Disney, DC Comics, Electronic Arts, Kellogg’s, Pepsi, Marvel Comics, Microsoft and MGM Entertainment is a testament not only to his recognition in his field, but also to his ability to adapt and work in a multitude of different areas.

All of this success has kept Mr. MacNeil extremely busy, and as of 2010 he works full time in a studio designing and developing land-based slot machines and freelancing in the animation and video games industries. “Simply put, I don’t sleep,” he said. “But I’m not complaining, it is work I truly enjoy…it has allowed me to take part in almost every type of creative outlet imaginable,” he said. By 2011, Mr. MacNeil has become a highly sought after artist, illustrator and brand, product and concept art designer, and is constantly growing and improving his skills.

From Rejection to Inspiration

Using traditional training, digital media and the Internet to his full advantage, Mr. MacNeil has become a respected, well-known artist in more industries than many of his peers could hope for. Ever vigilant in protecting his work, copyright has been an equally important part of his success, without which his art would be susceptible to infringers hoping to ride the coattails of his success. His experiences with IP infringement only underscored the importance of copyright, and along with his talent and versatility, he has long since proven the art school that rejected him wrong.