Anyone involved in the arts or the occult has something in common – that is, being a part of a community that for the most part, has little access to personal wealth within itself, and is exploited a great deal by unscrupulous corporations, business people, and far too often, other artists and occultists. Lobbyists are constantly trying to strip copyright power away from poor and disenfranchised artists. While the community often rallies in powerful ways against predatory “design molesters” as I like to call them, it’s never easy and it can lead to burnout amongst artists who if they achieve even a little success, see it ripped off.
Concept art god Randis Albion wrote a slick article on the subject of crowdsourcing and artist exploitation:
“The way our profession is treated at times is sickening. No one would dare to claim a free meal at a restaurant in exchange for telling friends that it was tasty and yet in our industry some people do not
even bother to ask. Artworks get stolen on a daily basis as if this was a natural thing to do, as if art grows on trees or is generated with a single button click in mysterious apps like Photoshop.”
One website aptly named “You Thought We Wouldn’t Notice” (http://www.youthoughtwewouldntnotice.com) tackles the issue by publishing every instance of art theft it finds, in order to leverage the tool of social ostracization to stop the practice.
Below is one horrible example. The wonderful occultesque artist Katie Scott created a very intricate and powerful image which was ripped off by a big clothing company called General Pants, who without her permission, sold them online to the global marketplace.
The Original by Katie Scott:
It’s so painful to see an artist’s original design mass marketed – stolen – for some corporation’s bottom line. The artist rarely recovers any of his or her lost income and work. The company makes their buck and moves on to the next idea to steal.
This predatory practice is part of the problem facing third world nations who get their native designs ripped off by mass market nations who give nothing back to the culture except a legacy of enviromental abuse and a generation of kids who can look forward to a short lifetime of severe disability. (I’m talking about the dangerous factory conditions afflicting women and children which lead to nerve damage). One of the hardest hit communities is the Native American tribes of the Southwest. Authentic pieces are purchased by factory buyers from the Pacific Rim who go back to Phillipines or China and reproduce the design enmasse, probably using child labor. For the Zuni, Hopi and Navajo artists who depend on making art for a living, this has a devastating effect and is cultural rape.
The example below is a fake fetish necklace, being illegally advertised as Native American. The seller admits it is made in the Phillipines. While a true fetish necklace is hand carved from genuine local stones and can take an Native American Indian artist months to create and cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, the resin copy below is sold on places like Ebay or Etsy for as low as $40.
To be fair, Ebay is much stricter about abusing Native American art. They warn every seller whenever they use the term Native American on a listing. Etsy, once though of as a crafter’s haven, is a horrible and unethical company. It has become the central hub for design theft of all kinds, made out of cheap plastic and factory made items.
Artists are sort of the canary in the mines in any society. When artists are downtrodden, chances are the society is not a very enlightened one. They’re also a reflection of the world at large. An exploited artist is an exploited underdeveloped nation. That is what the United States is becoming.
Crowdsourcing, bad education in a broken college system for artists, copycat mass-market art you can buy off the shelf at Old Navy or Target – this is what is exploiting artists.
Jason Manley, a cultural creative, artist right’s activist and art school reformer behind conceptart.org, wrote that “It just gets worse every day with no end in sight” in response to yet another report on his forums that one of the community artists had their art completely stolen – copied and pasted – for a vulgar car advertisement, by a famous ad designer.
The outrage is still just a tiny voice in a sea of theft and corporate debauch. You Thought We Wouldn’t Notice, an art law and theft blog, keeps the community up to date on recent outrages perpetrated by thieves.:
It’s probably under-pressure corporate artists doing this – ones desperate enough to sell their soul to pay off their college loans – the ones that paid for a diploma with little or no education in actual art creation attached to it.
The question for the emerging artist is how to stop it. A small time artist doesn’t have a lawyer standing behind their catalogue raissonne at all times waiting to go vampire on any corporation stupid enough to steal something from their treasure.
1. For starters, start watermarking your work if you put it online. We had to start doing this at The Abrahadabra Institute because the fucking Freemasons were claiming some of m1thr0s’s proofs – never before published or depicted anywhere in the world – were part of their ancient “legacy”. Bullshit. For this reason I never trust Freemasons. Here’s a couple of different examples of watermarks:
2. Use small resolution images. Anything larger than 800×600 is asking for trouble. If you want to show off your work at a larger size – for xst’s sakes, save it for an opening show and print it off at Imagekind.
3. Put your name on your work. Even if you don’t watermark it, at least put your name and/or website address on the work so if it gets passed around you get the advertising credit. Just remember it can be cropped off by evil people.
4. Don’t put your work on the internet. This, I can’t really recommend unless you’re living in New York City and already have strong gallery representation. First you almost always need the publicity of the internet as an emerging or even intermediate artist. Secondly, in the unlikely case you become famous in this post 1980′s art world, your images are going to end up online anyways. I do advise not showing your work until you really are familiar with how to get stolen art taken down and how to protect it using watermarks and Google search.
5. If your work is stolen for profit, send a bill to the art thief. Be civil and try to explain that you make art for a living. You can always try getting paid by the company. This only works if the company actually has money, reach and legal concerns and isn’t some shack on the beach somewhere in Rio or something.
6. Threaten legal action, and if they don’t respond, follow through with a lawyer and a good cease and desist. A lawyer costs about $50-$100 an hour on average, but only bill based on collective hours spent, so it may not be as expensive as you think. It’s important as your work grows that you start a relationship with a lawyer or legal service. (I recommend Prepaid Legal Services, aka LegalShield)
7. Talk about it. Division is the Tool of Restriction. Find an artist’s community to ally with and talk about tough issues facing the industry such as crowdsourcing and illegal copying. Make people aware of what companies like Forever 21 and Walmart are doing to artists.
8. Report image theft to the ISP. I have successfully had m1thr0s’s art removed from for-profit sites that did not pay for his work by going directly to the ISP. Even ISP’s not bound by hard copyright law such as those based in Israel or South America will often honor the request – they have a reputation to protect and most people who don’t sell art will protect artists. If you don’t know who the host is, do a whois lookup on the domain.
9. Stolen physical works. Have you ever had a framed piece of original work stolen? I have and it sucks! I have never gotten these pieces back, as it’s hard to track stolen art. Report it to the police as soon as possible and save the copy of the police report. You can use it to retrieve stolen artwork. Post local ads on craigslist asking for the crowd to help find the work. Even years later, don’t hesitate to continue the search by posting photos of it online and ALWAYS sign your work so that people know who it came from. Get digital photos of the work as soon as you create a work so you have a record of it.
10. Lastly, don’t encourage art theft of any kind, and don’t engage in such behavior yourself. Torrenting movies and music that have not been released by the artist for such a purpose is also art theft, and one little theft can lead to an attitude of appropriating anything. Go through a service that pays the artists, like Netflix or Pandora.
As always ask questions in the comment section and I’ll do my best to answer.