Thursday, 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.


*  *  *  *  *

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.




30 comments:

  1. Kathleen,
    I understand how draining this is. Definitely consult your copyright lawyer. This matter is not "closed" and I find it so infuriating that the "guilty party" had the gall to respond that way.
    Your car analogy was right on, and people who don't understand it need a wake-up call.

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    1. I know you have been through this too, Jody, and you have lived through the emotional side of it.

      I sent another email to the government office in question today asking them to do the right thing. I am waiting for their response. My next step is engaging the services of my lawyer.

      Thanks for your support, Jody, here and elsewhere. It is very much appreciated. xo

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  2. Well said Kathleen ! Your beautiful work has been violated ! Sending big big support hugs in your way !

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    1. Thank you, Noémi. Your support and encouraging words here and on Facebook are very much appreciated. A big hug to you too.

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  3. Kathleen, I know how you feel. A few months ago, a girl in Scotland (I'm in NJ) sent me a photo of her new tattoo art, which covered her whole upper arm. Turns out...IT WAS MY PAINTING.

    She sent it to me, thinking I'd be flattered, which I was. But an artist doesn't live on flattery alone. When I asked if she or the tattoo parlor would be willing to pay a small royalty, her sense of entitlement flared like some rabid dragon out to eat me whole.

    So she gets a tattoo she loves, the tattoo parlor gets about $700 for the job, and I get...zip.

    Oh, and my artwork WAS watermarked. Didn't matter in this case. (She found it on Google.)

    Yes, we must educate people, even if it means just one person at a time. Good luck with your legal pursuit. Let us know (at 16stars) what happens!

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    1. I really appreciate you coming here, Mary Ann, telling your story and providing support. You said it so well: "an artist doesn't live on flattery alone".

      I considered walking away from this situation. I avoided talking about it on my blog until now, as I want my blog to be a positive place. After another night of sleeping badly, I realized I needed to speak up for myself and for others. Let's hope that what we are saying here will make a difference to someone.

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    2. The fault in this case lies SO MUCH with the tattoo artist. No self respecting artist will copy someone's work without a release, at least. And even then, they would be hesitant to. I've always used artists who will take my idea and design something from it. They live on THEIR art. An artist who will copy art, even onto your arm, even if you want it, is no better than a forger. If she had bought the rights and come into the shop, even then a lot of artists would feel uncomfortable duplicating someone else's work... It's just unthinkable.

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    3. Kathleen...speaking up for oneself is certainly "positive"! By being called negative, or cry babies, or whatever...these are just terms to hold us down and oppress free speech. Bringing up this issue is VERY positive, believe me.

      And October, thank you for this wonderful POV. I have a tattoo artist friend who had the gall to say to me that I should be happy that this chick was "promoting" my art on her arm!! Screw that! Like she's really going to remember my name when someone compliments her on it. Like she's really going to remember the name of my Etsy shop. I wanted to strangle this guy and he was my FRIEND.

      I was a musician for years, and I'd hear that same logic over and over. Play your music here for free because we're giving you EXPOSURE.

      Oh, I am just so done with all of that. Either pay up or keep moving. I've no time for such nonsense anymore, if I can help it.

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  4. You wrote it so eloquently, and as you said, with all your art. Yes, I think you are preaching to the converted, but let's hope someone different will stop by & will read & will understand.
    I am not an artist or a painter, but everything I do, I do it with all my heart & my "gutt", and I know the feeling that is inside any creative maker (painter or any maker of things). We don't only use our hands for making what we do, we use feelings deep inside (sad or happy or anything else), that's what keeps us going. If anyone hurts those feelings, it's very hard on the maker, and really though to keep on making, with a light heart.
    I'm 100% behind you, my friend. It's simply unbelievable that an administration would do such an illegal thing. How stupid from them.
    oxoxo

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    1. Well first of all, Sonia, I beg to differ with something you said. I consider you to be an artist. Your mediums just happen to be photography, natural dyes and fabric. You know exactly what I mean. There is that dual pain in the heart and gut when our art is misused in some way. It's so physical. I don't think others understand until they have had one of their creations tampered with in some way. Thank you for your complete understanding and your ongoing support, Sonia. You are a good friend.

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  5. Unfortunately, it's everywhere. The needlework industry is crippled by people posting commercial designs/charts on-line for others to copy without paying for them. When I owned a brick and mortar needlework shop, I was not bashful about chastising customers who made idle comments about sharing with their friends. I probably lost customers, but it is wrong and those artists deserve more respect.

    As a creator of needlework accessories, I don't consider myself a great artist, but I am proud of what I design and was shocked to find photos of my stitch markers on a web site, supposedly being sold as clip art. And even more shocking was finding that other links on that same site were for porn! My stomach churns just thinking about it.

    Thanks for speaking out, Kathleen. Let's all share this and continue to try to educate the public.

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    1. Hi Tommye, Thank you very much for coming here and posting a comment. It is very sad to learn that this is happening in so many sectors and affecting so many makers. The prevalence of copying does not make it right. I agree with you that speaking out is important and if some don't like it, well, I think we know which side they're on. Thank you for adding your voice.

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  6. I am so sorry that you have had to deal with this, Kathleen. I know (well, am relatively sure) that this is not something I will have to worry about ever, but I can imagine your distress as I would feel the same way. I do hope you saved screen prints showing your images in use for your lawyer. Good luck!

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    1. Thank you very much for your support. Very much appreciated. Yes indeed I have a screen print!

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  7. Kathleen,

    Sorry to hear that. Unfortunately, with internet it is very difficult to keep malicious persons at bay. This is why I do not use FB, Pinterest and others but I know this will not prevent my work to be stolen. I often wonder about Etsy. It is so easy to copy a work and then declare to be the author.
    Bon courage

    Hélène

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    1. Thank you, Hélène, for your support. Yes, you are right, that the internet makes it easy for those who want to steal, but it also allows us the find the offenders. That part is good.

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  8. Hi Kathleen
    I am so sad for you. All the things you describe are so realist... I lived something like that when I was younger at the University. I did a book for children for an important "Organisme mondial de charité". They paid me for the work I did. Five years after, I found in a library my book with a new look : they change the pictures given them the same sense but the persons instead of face had circles and the text was the same. My name wasn't there it was the name of another one who dont exist.
    It's awfull the feelling when we realise that our work is stolen ! It's like lost of a person we like.

    Don't let them win, they don't have any heart.

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    1. I am so sorry to hear that happened to you, Marie. You know first-hand how terrible it feels. I sometimes say that my art is sort of like children. But I think your description of it as a special friend is very good. Thank you for your words of encouragement. I am very touched by them.

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  9. Well said, Kathleen, and thank you for saying it out loud! Not only does the artist suffer, but I think society also suffers. Just as society benefits from the creativity, vision and skill of artists of all kinds, society is tarnished by a lack of art as well as the black-hearted copying of art.

    I created a new board on my Pinterest: Art and Art-Related; your blog post is the cover!

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    1. Thank you so much, Sheryl, for coming here and adding your voice. I appreciate both the eloquence and strength of your words.

      And thank you for pinning my blog post! Let's hope that our words make a difference to someone.

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  10. Hi -- I haven't been following your blog very long -- I found it thru a blog called "Geninne". I feel very sorry you've had your work stolen, it's never happened to me (so far as I know), but I can imagine what a shock it would be. I just wanted to mention that I learned a lot about copyright from a link button I also found on Geninne's blog --- it's called "Link with Love". I had just started using Pinterest when I happened to click on the "Link with Love" button on Geninne's blog and learned that things can be pinned and repinned and the original source lost in the shuffle. That's something I didn't realize when I opened my Pinterest account --- I thought that Pinterest automatically affixed the original source to every pin. I think Pinterest ought to make it clear how the whole thing works when you sign up! I deleted all my pins and my boards and I don't use Pinterest now --- except that I did pin a link from "Link with Love" on there. Also I put a "Link with Love" button on my blog as well --- I thought it was a good idea. And now I have started putting watermarks on all my pix I upload to Etsy, my blog, Flickr, and Facebook. My work gets very few views, but if anything does get pinned, at least it will have my web address on it so I can be found. It's too much work to go back and put watermarks on everything I've already uploaded, though. It's true that a person has to pick their battles --- it may be that the cost to you of pursuing a legal remedy would not be worth it. I JUST HAD AN IDEA. What if "Illustration Friday" (something I just learned about but haven't participated in yet) had "copyright infringement" as one of their weekly topics? Maybe a whole slew of illustrations about it would help get the point across.... plus maybe expressing it visually would be therapeutic... Hope everything works out for you.

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    1. Thanks, Joyce Alice, for your support. I love Geninne's blog too. :) I don't use Pinterest very often but when I do pin images, I make sure that they are linked to the original source. If it isn't indicated, I will do a Google search to find the source. Some people don't realize how important it is.

      Many use watermarks like you do but I would prefer not to as that diminishes the chances of work being featured on the front page of Etsy or in their marketing emails. It's a tough call.

      Writing this blog post was therapeutic for me. Reading all of the responses here
      and feeling the support of fellow artists this week has been very helpful. If the District of West Kelowna doesn't do the right thing on their own, I will be contacting my lawyer. I like to believe the best of people and hope that they will come back to me before that happens. We'll see. Thanks, Joyce Alice, for taking the time to add your voice to the discussion.

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  11. i really feel for you Kathleen. I am still not fully recovered from the time when my whole persona was stolen by a thoughtless, mean spirited individual on etsy. She not only copied my work , but my style, descriptions etc. It was like she was truly trying to be me. I hope you recover from this with all the love and support you have here. xo

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    1. That sounds like a horrible experience, Margie.

      I appreciate the love and support I have here very much. I also appreciate that so many people took the time to share their own stories. Thank you, my friend. xo

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  12. Hi Kathleen,

    I'm a recent subscriber to your blog and work because I admire your watercolors! It was heartbreaking to read this post, and it must indeed be so frustrating, infuriating to have one's hard, hard work blatantly stolen. Definitely more education is needed regarding plagiarism of image/artwork!! I was actually browsing Etsy from a shop that I favorited (and have since removed), because I'm pretty sure they stole an image of Teagan White's here: http://www.etsy.com/listing/156854729/hand-printed-linen-fabric-diy-home-decor
    http://www.teaganwhite.com/childrens.html

    I've since written and reported it to Teagan herself, but I cannot report this on Etsy because I do not own that image. In any case, it was so shocking to me coming across this (what I think) is obvious plagiarism right before you wrote your post! Persevere! Please continue to share your work because it's very inspiring! And, thank you for writing this post.

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    1. Thank you, Jeannie, for your support and words of encouragement.

      I know of other instances similar to what you describe. Two of my artist friends have had their art printed on fabric without permission and then sold in Etsy shops. I have a lot of trouble understanding why Etsy continues to let those shops sell even after reports are made.

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  13. It sucks so bad and I´m sorry for you and sorry to hear that they didn´t fully own up to their theft. Sooo low of them, they should be ashamed and pay that invoice at once! :-(

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    1. Thanks, Tina, for your support. I hope they do the right thing too.

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  14. oh my Kathleen... I have heard of awful stories about artists images being used, but never by the government itself :P

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Thanks so much for taking the time to visit my blog and to leave me a comment. I love reading them. -- Kathleen

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