Friday, September 9, 2016

Combat Art Theft -- case studies and taking action updated 12.14.2020

Counterfeit goods are bad business for consumers and creators.

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.

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.

There are links for basics on Copyright on this page from website for Graphic Artist Guild.

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.
UPDATE 12.5.16 "Becoming the Brand" 5 tips ...."Powerful personal brands aren’t created overnight. They require compelling tales, relatable charisma, and products or content that people want"

For Fans -- as noted at the opening of this post: 
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. 
- 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...

Lili filed her lawsuit against Kohl's on 9.29.16. Links to press release, the filing, and updates on other press coverage of the lawsuit can be found on this post:

Lili's lawsuit against Kohl's was settled out of court. Her lawsuit still a fantastic case study. Her case just one of many that are getting the attention of large chain retailers... and making them realize art theft is serious business.

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

More on photo art theft ... 9.21.16 NPR story on Skittles pic

Info on copyright and image protection service "Pixsy" .. interview w/ Pixsy founder Daniel Foster.

Also on my radar August 17, 2015 .. this little essay as a Facebook post from artist Nidhi Chanani :
Work below is titled "Bubble Bath" 2012. See more of her art here

Nidhi's essay below from Facebook page:
i'm an artist and i deserve credit
i create artwork to make people happy. i share that work on social media and i always include my website or name (or both) on my work.
i spent the past five years building my career. i spent my entire life acquiring an understanding of light, color, composition and rhythm – components that i believe make my work unique. each illustration i create has drawn upon these hours, days and weeks of practice. my illustrations are inspired by my life. each piece is a peek into a moment, a memory or my imagination. my artwork is an extension of who i am.
recently my work went “viral” and dozens of websites and facebook pages shared my everyday love with captions added (side note, i do not allow any modification of my artwork under my copyright, including adding captions). in the beginning, my name and website were shared along with the pieces. slowly but surely, as my work was re-shared, my name and website were dropped. in fact many of the posts intentionally cropped my work to remove my name from the bottom! these sites use my work to promote their own brands without citing the source. i LOVE that thousands of people enjoy my work and feel a connection to it – but i do not appreciate my artwork being shared without my name or a link to my site (see example).
i created the art and i deserve credit.
everyday love art is our family business. we built it through years of support and sacrifice. i love creating art and we love sending our cards and prints around the world. i need to make and sell art to continue creating. i do not need to spend time writing posts like these, chasing copyright violations and worrying about it. i encourage you to report any posts that shares artwork without credit, whether its mine or another artist’s. that’s the proper, respectful thing to do.
i hope that assigning proper credit will become the new web standard. then i can focus solely on creating artwork to make people happy – that’s all i’ve ever wanted to do.

And it's not just art theft... The copy cat culture is now moving on to platforms like Kickstarter:

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

San Diego City Beat article on indie artist pin designs stolen by chain "Francesca"

UPDATE 1.11.17 on this art theft by Francesca's case...
lawsuit filed ... details in this article by Brian Boucher, including a link to the complaint...

Target pin theft

and use of indie artist design..

Artist Lili Pichu's video on Artist Problems.. 

Primer on Copyright and impact from TPP
"The Trouble with the TPP:Copyright Law and the DCMA" by Nicole Martinez in Artlawjournal..

UPDATE 12.28.16

Interview with artist Tuesday Bassen

UPDATE 1.1.17
"Companies and Customers Getting Fed Up With Counterfeits Flooding Amazon..."
12.11.16 article on

UPDATE 1.14.17

More media coverage about Art Theft increases education for artists and fans....
"Amazon Counterfeiters Wreak Havoc on Artists and Small Businesses"
May 25, 2016 article by Ari Levy on
explores impact on artists of theft via sites on Ebay, Amazon, Alibaba etc. The link includes videos

Fantastic list of articles on IP (intellectual property) issues posted on this "IP in the News" page
 of the website Who Stole My Images

UPDATE 3.22.17
Article from Reuters "Amazon to Expand Counterfiet Removal Program in Overture to Sellers" by 
Jeffrey Dastin
But it's NOT a move to protect Indie Artists"
"The (brand registry) reflects Amazon's efforts to court increasingly important third-party sellers. The Seattle-based company takes a commission for retail transactions it enables, and it sells lucrative fulfillment and advertising services to third parties."

UPDATE 4.6.17
Op Ed by Harry Shearer in Rolling Stone
Spinal Tap (L-R; Michael McKean (David St. Hubbins), Harry Shearer (Derek Smalls), and Christopher Guest (Nigel Tufnel)), 1984 Pete Cronin/Redferns/Getty
Quote from Op Ed: "Perhaps not unusually for a popular film produced over three decades ago, there have been a dizzying parade of corporate characters trading rights to This Is Spinal Tap through the years. Yet our requests for timely statements of the film's income have been met with a series of slammed doors. So far, Vivendi has confused our rather clueless fictional film characters with the entirely switched-on people behind this multi-million dollar action. No more "mis-underestimation." Since learning of the deliberate and persistent obfuscation by Vivendi, we're on a mission for fairness. And it'll be loud — Tap loud."

UPDATE 4.7.17
Unicolors’ copyrighted design, left and the Free People design. 
Article in Women's Wear Daily --
Company "Unicolors" wins $503K lawsuit..
quote from article: "In affirming the underlying verdict and related judgment — which are damages and attorney fees, nearly all of which will be paid by Urban — the appellate panel said “substantial evidence” showed Urban “acted with reckless disregard for the possibility that the fabric it sampled was protected by copyright.”

UPDATE -- BLOG POST 8.22.17 on this case of art theft that appeared on Buzzfeed Quiz..This 8.17 "Mermaid Quiz" featured art credited to "adekvat"... but in fact, these images are derivative works and substantially similar to copyright protected IP of artist Liana Hee (info graphic below by Liana Hee).

See more Liana Hee art here:

UPDATE 8.31.17
Excellent article sheds light on the shady side of TeeChip...
March 27, 2017 by Nicole Martinez

UPDATE 11.11.17
Link on post for copyright basics. This is part one... there is a link in the post for part two. Post appeared on blog of pro photographer Ken Kaminsky. Post is written by Copyright Attorney Carolyn E. Wright.

UPDATE 1.23.19
Buzzfeed News story by Nicole Nguyen.

UPDATE 1.20.20
Singer unrepentant when called out for theft of artist owned image and unauthorized commercial use of artist's IP. Image below is "Brotherhood" by artist Jonas J√∂dicke

Article on the Jonas Jodicke case against singer Aaron Carter... posted by Nadja Sayej Jan18,2020 on
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 other art theft related posts:

1) frequently updated post "Copyright Info for Artists"

2) Art has Value --- moving fans from "likes" to patrons

3) Post on Fan Art --- grey areas and need for education

4) Art Theft Editioral on Artsy.Net about fighting back against fashion industry plagiarism

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