September 23, 2013

My Art Belongs to Me: An Important Update

I want to thank everyone who read my last blog post (over 700 people at the last count). It has been a difficult, distracting ten day-period since I first contacted the District of West Kelowna in British Columbia over art they had used without permission, attribution and compensation on their website.

Thank you to those who took the time to tell their own stories about their art being misused or abused in some way. I believe that sharing our voices gives them strength. Thanks for the warm support and encouragement you provided to me here, on Facebook, Twitter, in messages and emails. It meant so much to me.

I have to say a huge thank you to Margaret Atwood for retweeting my blog post link to 429,342 followers. Completely amazing. When I thanked her for her tweet, she said the kindest things about my paintings. For an English lit major turned artist, that was a euphoric moment in an otherwise very difficult week. I'm actually still floating.

I want to thank Toronto architect Sheena Sharp of Coolearth Architecture Inc. who saw Ms. Atwood's retweet of my blog link and sent a wonderful letter to Mayor Findlater in West Kelowna about my case and in support of artists in general.

Thanks to my family here and in Ontario for their support. Another historic event of the past week was that my mother posted words of support on Facebook for me. She abhors Facebook. She did it for me. I also received a lovely email with words of encouragement from my father on the weekend. He closed with: "Keep on doing your beautiful art & remember that most people are honest enough to admit that they made a mistake."

That is what I wanted to believe but I wasn't sure it was going to happen.

I have very good news. It did. I have received a very thoughtful letter from Kirsten Jones, Communications Supervisor on behalf of the District of West Kelowna. 

They heard me. They heard you. We have made a difference.

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Here is Ms. Jones' letter for you to read.

Dear Ms. Maunder:  
It is with tremendous regret that I read about the suffering you have undergone due to the District’s use of an image you indicate you have copyright for. I certainly don’t want you to think we take this lightly, that is far from the case. Those involved in this situation have been deeply impacted by your words and I can tell you, changes have come about within our organization, directly due to this difficult situation.  
Yes, we are a government body. But the District of West Kelowna is a new municipality, five years old, with a very small number of communications staff. Indeed, although we try to be everywhere, see everything on the approximately 820-page website we manage, we simply cannot. In this particular case, we were not there and, unfortunately, a mistake did happen. An inexperienced website content provider selected a pretty image from the internet that she thought would brighten up the webpage dedicated to our fall recreation guide. There was no malicious intent on her part, no inkling that the image was copyright.  
After you indicated where you had found the image on our webpage, I took a look and it was instantly obvious to me that these images were not “clipart” at all. The Maple Leafs image is truly beautiful, a work of a gifted artist. I immediately had them removed from our website.  I then spent some time viewing your other work, reading your comments on your social media sites and websites. I know, without a shadow of a doubt that you are dedicated to your craft, passionate about what you do and it clearly shows in your work. I can understand why you have felt so unhappy with what I am sure appears to be cavalier use of your art as “clipart.” I am truly sorry for this and want you to know that the District of West Kelowna values the arts greatly, and in fact we’ve just finalized a cultural plan intended to promote the work and efforts of local artists.  
I also apologize for the time it has taken for us to respond to you thoroughly on this matter, but regretfully, municipalities receive a lot of claims of harm from various avenues and we simply must fully investigate to ensure we have all the information.  
We have discovered that a content provider was unclear about what images from the internet are safe for public use. We have rectified this misunderstanding internally to ensure something like this never happens again.  
Although we feel removing the image, which we immediately did, was truly the correct course of action, we can appreciate that you feel compensation is needed. We therefore offer payment (...) for the past use of your image as we feel this is the right thing to do.  
We are preparing the appropriate paperwork as I write this and we will be sending this to you in the near future in the form of a letter. You are welcome to post this reply on your social media sites and blog. 
Sincerely, on behalf of the District of West Kelowna, 
Kirsten Jones, Communications Supervisor, Municipal Hall
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Thank you, Ms. Jones and your colleagues, for listening and making changes in the way you do things. Thank you for the serious, measured nature of your response. Thank you for understanding that what you initially thought of as a small oversight was actually much bigger. Copyright infringement can never be considered an oversight. It has financial ramifications for artists and very real emotional ones. I hope that what I have gone through here will help other artists in the future. I am also very happy to know that you have a cultural plan to promote the work of local artists.

I am grateful to all of my readers, both new and old. Please keep speaking out about how hurtful it is to use artists’ work without permission, attribution and compensation.  Continue to stand up for yourselves and for fellow artists. From my heart to yours--thank you!

September 19, 2013

My Art Belongs to Me

When you find your art used somewhere without permission, when you come upon it out of context and in the wrong place, there is a moment of shock. It stops you cold. Then the reaction is visceral. There is a physical feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Art is part of us. When artists create, we put a small piece of ourselves outside in the world.

When a friend recently heard that I had some of my works stolen (and that’s what copyright infringement is), she shouted swear words at her computer. This is not someone who swears normally. She is a refined, gentle, elegant woman who spends her days painting beautiful watercolours. She had that strong reaction because she is my friend but also because she knows what it feels like. She has been through the same horrible experience.

Some artist friends have said that they don’t even look anymore for the violations because the pain of dealing with these situations causes artistic paralysis. Are you getting an idea of how big this is?

Art thieves not only deprive the true artist of income but cause physical stress and heartache. It literally hurts to have work stolen.

This is not just an internet problem. Years ago, I had my images used without permission by two American companies. This was well before the internet, so the compulsion to steal artists’ work is not new. Some theories I have are that it can be attributed to laziness, a lack of creative vision or brazenness. People think they won’t get caught. For some, maybe it’s a budget thing. It’s cheaper to steal than to pay for legitimate use. However you explain it, it’s wrong. I had to hire a copyright lawyer that time. It was time-consuming. It was emotionally draining. I can still recall the emotional toll of that period all these years later. It is imprinted on me.

One of the most recent cases I have been dealing with is a government office in Canada that used my ‘Maples Leaves’ painting as if it was clip art on their website. Clip art! A communications department in a Canadian government office. It blows my mind. You would think a department of communications professionals would have a moral and legal sense of what is right and wrong in their own country.  They did remove my image (actually, images, as they used it twice) from their website but it was only after I sent them an invoice for illegal use of it. They then sent me an email saying that my name wasn’t on the art so they had no idea it was mine! It was an oversight, they said. They wouldn’t be paying the invoice. They considered the matter closed. 

When I saw that explanation, I saw red. I wrote an email back to them within minutes. My daughter could hear me pounding the keys of the computer keyboard from upstairs. I sent my response to them and posted it on my Facebook page.

Here’s what I said:

“While I appreciate that you removed the image on Friday, you and I know that it was only after I sent you an invoice.

There are millions of images on the internet. Google has a wealth of images that will appear after any search--it is a gathering place, nothing more. It is not a pool of clip art available for the world to use. Just because you can see things doesn't mean that you can use them.

As a Canadian visual artist trying to make a living from my art, I don't think you understand how heartbreaking it is to see my art used and abused in this way. It feels like a violation.

I remain shocked that a communications function in a Canadian governmental body would not have a better grasp of internet use as well as copyright issues and laws.

An 'oversight'? I think there are other words that would much better describe it. Here are some: theft, copyright violation, illegal use.

My invoice stands and I remain angry--actually more so after your meagre explanation.

Kathleen Maunder

Days after sending that email, I am still tossing and turning in my sleep. How hard is this to get? Infringing on someone’s copyright cannot be described as ‘an oversight’. 

Let’s talk cars instead of art because maybe that’s easier for some people to understand.

My car is parked in my driveway.  Is stealing it right?  No, someone might say, because it’s clear it belongs to me. It’s in my driveway and it has a licence plate on it. Plus we all know that stealing something that belongs to someone else is illegal.

Okay, so now you see my car on the street somewhere. It doesn’t have a licence plate because someone removed it. Is stealing it okay? According to the logic of the government office I’ve been dealing with, then it would be fine. It’s no longer clear that that the car belongs to me so it’s fair game for them to take it for a joyride and maybe even take it home. But you and I know that the second case is exactly the same as the first. It is still illegal to use and steal property that belongs to someone else. 

So, now I am having to decide whether I hire my copyright lawyer again. I have a commissioned painting I am about to start work on--a touching, beautiful commission with a very sad story behind it. This painting requires me to be fully engaged in it. I have a craft show to prepare for in mid-October that will involve hours of work. Autumn, one of my very favourite seasons, is about to start.  Yet, because of some people’s lack of morals and inexplicable ignorance of copyright law, I have been dealing with anger, discouragement and lack of sleep.

I know that most of the people who come to my blog are artists and/or art lovers. I realize I am preaching to the converted. But maybe, just maybe, someone will come here who hadn’t really thought about how hurtful using other artists’ work is. Maybe they will think twice before they copy an image and use it in some way. Maybe if they really want to use it, they’ll contact the artist and ask if it’s okay and how much it would cost. Maybe, if they don’t know who it belongs to they will plug it into Google Images Search and find the source. Maybe if they do share it on Pinterest or Tumblr or wherever else, they will make sure that it is attributed correctly back to the source. I really, really hope so.

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While there is a strong compulsion to stamp my name on top of every piece of my art, I won't do it. This blog is about sharing my art, my process, my love of flowers and nature and being part of an international art community. I will continue to post photos of my paintings here, in my Etsy shop, my Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts. There is text at the bottom of my blog stating that all images belong to me. There is similar text at the bottom of every Etsy listing. Those who choose to abuse art images know in their heart of hearts that it is not due to some mistake of the artist. 
The fault is completely their own.

I have good news. My dispute with the District of West Kelowna has been resolved in a positive way. Please read about it here.

September 11, 2013

A Rocky Heart

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love hearts. I love to paint them, I own heart-shaped jewelry, I love to see heart shapes in other things. I also really love rocks. The heart rock collection above was gathered on our holiday this past August in Maine. I actually have more of them than I was able to fit in the photo.

I can't tell you how much pleasure looking at these gorgeous heart rocks gives me. I love that there are smooth ones, wonky ones, broken ones, light and dark. Don't all of our hearts go through all of those stages at some time or another?

Some of these rocks are particularly nice to hold. The great big, smooth rock in the centre came from Jasper Beach in Maine. It is the most extraordinary place. Mounds and mounds of ocean-sculpted, smooth jasper stones. That big heart is so beautiful and just might be the ultimate worry stone.

In April, I showed you a painting I did of a gorgeous tree that lives in the forest where I walk with Meeko during the winter. It has the most wonderful heart shape on its trunk.  I finally made my painting into a print and added it to my shop this week. I am very happy with how it turned out. I did the original painting in gouache as I wanted to make sure that all of the woodsy, earthy, mossy tones came through on the beautiful tree trunk.  The print has captured the original's tones very nicely.

"Legend has it she gave her heart to the forest."  8 1/2 x 11 inch print on Italian watercolour paper
I also found some beautiful egg-shaped rocks. I'm like a kid when I'm on the beach. I get so excited about shells, sea glass and all shapes of rocks. Look at these beauties!

I wonder if Arounna from Bookhou ever wonders about the treasures that her beautifully made bags carry. My wonderful rock collection was transported in a Bookhou bag from the coast of Maine back to our home.

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Thank you for your patience with me in past weeks. I came back from our holiday in early August fired up and with the best intentions of posting on my blog more often. Well and then I didn't. (Did you wonder if our house had been surrounded by the black-eyed susans in my last post?) I've missed you all and hope to be here more often this fall.  Both Emma and ChloĆ© are now back to school. After a very slow summer, I've started to sell again in my shop. (Yay!) I've added new prints and some more originals, so please have a look. I'll be adding more in the weeks ahead. The next month will be busy. I have a special commissioned painting to work on (maybe two) as well as a craft show to prepare for. I'll see you here!



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