Sunday, August 28, 2016

Combat art theft -- case studies and taking action

Leaving up this August version, since this link has appeared on social media. Updated version with additional links is in Sept posts.
Counterfeit goods are bad business for consumers and creators.

There is an alarming culture of tolerated piracy when it comes to unauthorized commercial use of images on the internet. 

It starts small. Inexperienced artists or vendors "find" an image they like online and then use it for their own products. Often they are ignorant about copyright laws. Education on creative rights is vital for artists and fans.

Art theft extends to larger companies that know better. (ie Society 6... Red Bubble..Shutterstock.. etc). They manufacture goods on demand (t-shirts, prints etc). These companies dodge responsibility for art theft... claiming that due to the volume of images on their site, they can't be responsible for due diligence on the rights of all the images. Or the companies will slightly alter the artist's work -- then refuse to acknowledge that the original artist retains rights to create any derivative work.

These companies will often comply with a cease and desist notice from the artist ... but by then, the damage is done. The artist who created the work has lost credit.. and compensation.. for all those sales racked up by thieves. 

Worst of all.. when national chains rip off indie artists.
National chains will just tell the artist.. go ahead and sue... assuming the artist won't have the resources to fight them..

Here's link with more info on pursuing lawsuits 
Graphic Artists Guild .. "if you want to sue"

How did we get to this point???? 

It's the double-edged sword of the internet.
Online art is easy to share... and easy to steal. 

Copyright protections for artists are under the jurisdiction of federal courts. The power of these courts.. and the laws... are designed to protect creative rights.

At the federal level, everything moves slowly.. and cases are extremely expensive to even file.. not to mention the legal fees required to prosecute. This powerful.. but thorough and expensive system.. is taking steps to adapt. It recognizes the impact of the internet on artists rights...

Learn more about options in the works for the future.. 

check out this 8.17.16 webinar "Small Copyright Claims Court; New Legislation to Help Authors and Creators"
Hosted by The Graphic Artists Guild .. lots of artists rights resources on their site.

Meanwhile, cavalier attitudes towards copyright protections endanger artists. This points to a critical lack of understanding by the public.. and even some artists... about the benefits of copyright enforcement.

What we need is an online community that doesn't just "like" art on all the social media platforms.... but demands respect for artists' creative rights. 

Treating art like it's free for the exploiting... like it's all inter-changeable... like it has no value... undermines the social and commercial contracts that are the foundation of the artist-patron relationship. 

We don't expect other services or entertainment to be provided to us without compensation. Why do people feel entitled to "free" art.

Artists don't post art to be exploited. They post art to connect their work with fans.. with peers.. and with paying jobs. Their posts are a way to reach out to potential clients.. as well as their fans...  and develop a connection. 

If you see art you like... you "like" it.. you start to follow the artist. If you just want "free" art, then the relationship stays at that level. But if you want more.. if you want a commission.. or a print.. or merchandise... be sure you are obtaining it from the source or their licensed partners. 

The internet provides exposure... but exposure alone is worthless.
All the art that gets "liked" ... is the creative WORK of an artist. If the internet can only provide "likes" and "shares"... but no sales, why should any artist continue to post their work? .. and Why can't the internet provide algorithms that source art images back to the creators.. for COMPENSATION!!! All that online "free" art is making money for somebody... why not include the artists... but I digress... 

How can artists and fans combat art theft??? 

For artists: Double down on branding. Put your name on everything. Don't be anonymous. Be bold about your brand. Be proactive about your rights. Reach out to your fans and patrons. Reward them for buying from the artist/source. Educate them about the impact of unauthorized use of images for commercial use by others.... and enlist fans in reporting art theft. Of course, register your copyrights.. and trademarks if applicable. Also educate your fans about WHY you register your rights .. and how these steps protect them as consumers as well as protecting you as the creator.

For Fans: If you "like" online art.
If you enjoy sharing art on social media.
If you want more art.... SUPPORT ARTISTS. 
Know where you art is sourced from. Buy only from artist owned or approved sources. Report art theft.

If you see stolen art being used by third parties to make's a handy phrase to put in the comments section for that item...

"This (mug.. t-shirt.. etc) is unauthorized use of an artist-owned image. You are producing commercial items without permission of the copyright holder."

Be part of the solution. Art theft robs us all of what we cherish -- great art shared from the heart by creative people. 

Artist Lili Chin has worked hard to build her "Doggie Drawings" brand.

She has a huge fan base. Her website is extensive.

Lili is active via DoggieDrawings on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. She works with companies that license her images for products like personalized Pet ID tags.

Her art is popular with her patrons .... and with internet art thieves.

Imagine her frustration. Create charming art. Do pro bono info-graphics for pet safety education. Donate auction items for animal rescue. Have over 100,000 followers.... and still ... 

See your art get stolen... over.. and OVER.. and OVER AGAIN! All those counterfeit goods.. made from Lili's images... are money she will never see. Not to mention the hours wasted on "wack-a-mole" with fly-by-night counterfeiters... and worse... even national chains!

Lili is fighting back. She has created FREE info-graphics on copyright for artists to use.

Getting these info-graphics in the hands of fans is a great way to raise awareness about these issues.

She is posting about her art theft cases... sharing her story so others can learn.. and getting help from her fans and peers. Below is a sample post from Lili...

Posting again with a photo of my dog.
Dear Doggie Drawings Friends,
I have been finding lots of products (t-shirts, bags, prints, phone cases etc) on the internet with stolen copies of my dog breed designs on them. The copyright infringers download my images, trace them, change a few details, and then re-upload the images under their own name; re-selling or licensing these copies to online shops. So I am finding my images and derivative works being sold on etsy and elsewhere.
When I contact these shops and inform them that they are reselling stolen artwork, some are understanding and remove the artwork. But there are also sellers who get nasty and defensive because they believe they paid for legit artwork or they simply don't care about ethics.
I am trying to track down the copyright infringers and I could use some help. If you see copies of my dog breed images on any image-licensing sites (eg Shutterstock. Yes, I have seen derivative works on there before), please let me know.
Thank you for your continued support and for not putting money in the pockets of thieves. More about my dog breed designs here:
- Lili
Please feel free to reshare this post.

And this .. Lili's blog post on Kohl's case .. a fan alerted her of this egregious theft of her work.. stolen from a pro bono eductional graphic she created .... and another fan started an online petition to call out Kohls...

Don't let Art Theft happen...

Learn from these and other cases.... here are more links...

link for Lili's educational blog post on derivative works....

Eli Halpin post on "do not copy"

photographer's article " This photo is not free"  by John Mueller on

Even more cases of  of art theft by Kohl's...

Bizjournal 2010
Spin 2013
Leagle 2015's%20Department%20Stores,%20Inc

This article calls out other National Chains ....

Clutter Magazine "Good Artists Copy, Great Brands Steal"  article by Marc 8.10.16

So many sample cases! design theft has been going on ... but it's more blatant now with unauthorized use of artist-owned images posted online. 

What's giving me hope.. is the fans who are reporting the thefts to the artists.. and rattling the cash registers of retailers by calling out the case studies via social media. 

Retailers are struggling... brick and mortar store are closing. The retail word knows its future is a hybrid of online sales and in person shopping "experiences." They need to woo the online customers.. and gain their trust. 

Retail chains and online platforms pay attention to social media posts.

Sharing stories that document art theft helps educate artists and customers. 

Artists must stay strong and fight on. Your IP (Intellectual Property) is worth it!

For more case studies on art theft and links to more resources, see my frequently updated post "Copyright Info for Artists"

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