Reaping Profits through Copyright Infringement

by guest blogger Emily Danchuk

Is there no end to the rip-offs being perpetrated on artists?

 

My mother, Cindy, is pretty good at rug hooking. Once in a while, she sees a pattern or a design created by someone else, makes her own similar pattern and hooks the hell out of it. After several years of working on the rug (she admittedly takes on too many side projects), it usually turns out pretty well. The resulting rug goes on her powder room floor, and that’s the end of that. Next side project, please.

 

Copyright Infringement Examples

Copyright Infringement examples of pillow designs.

 

Last week, one of my clients brought to my attention, with a sigh I could hear through the ethernet, a “DIY” crafter blog’s recent post. I took a look at this blog and read the specific post. A working mom in Virginia had, to her utter glee and astonishment, discovered how to reverse engineer my client’s textile design.

So she posted minute details on the steps she took in creating her “own” version of the design at – wait for it – a MUCH cheaper price! After all, she just couldn’t afford my client’s original textile designs, and that got her mind whirring on how to create the damn thing herself. And to boot, if the reader didn’t want to take the time to do their own reverse-engineering to recreate the design, they could simply purchase the blogger’s knock-off fabric from a Café Press-type of textile manufacturer. The blogger, of course, received a royalty from the fabric sales. Presto Infringement-o!

I just finished preparing a letter to this unnamed design thief, a knock-off artist disguised in blogger’s clothing. I had to explain to this woman that her actions, in fact, amounted to copyright infringement. And my client had to pay me to write this letter. Sigh.

Since when did “crafting” turn into “reverse engineering”? Since when did “Do-It-Yourself” turn into “Do-Infringement-Yourself”? I get the idea of taking a cool design and thinking you can give it a shot by creating your own – and KEEPING IT for yourself. But too many “crafters” and “hobbyists” have fallen down the Etsy rabbit hole by ripping other artists’ designs off, patting themselves on the back, and – why the hell not? – selling the knock-off design themselves, at a much cheaper price point.

I see two elephants in the room here. The first one is the question of how these “crafters” and “hobbyists” don’t realize that they are knocking someone else’s original design off and harming the original artist in the process. Many artists who create and sell original designs are attempting, apparently against all odds, to make a living at being an artist, maker or designer. They take their work seriously; they craft an entire business around their designs and have to come up with the original designs and then create these designs out of their heads. This takes time. And skill. And creativity.

Does the “hobbyist” not have an inkling of a thought as to how hard the artist worked at coming up with the idea and creating a design in the first place? Do they not have a small voice in their head, whispering, “you’re stealing”? In short, have they absolutely no shame? Apparently, ignorance may just be bliss.

 

More examples of blatant copyright infringement.

More examples of blatant copyright infringement.

 

The second elephant in the room is one that is a bit more focused. And by focused, I mean that there’s something that artists, creators and designers may be able to influence and control. This elephant is called the “Etsy model”. Let’s examine:

As far as this neophyte Etsy user can tell, and put as simply as possible, Etsy was created to fulfill a need for artists, designers and creators to get exposure for their artwork and to gain sales of artwork. One would justifiably conclude that Etsy was, in some manner, developed to give a boost to the artistic community (while, of course, profiting handsomely from being said boost). One may even conclude that Etsy supported the artistic community.

Then came the Alibabas, Cody Fosters and “hobbyists” of the world. These opportunists right-clicked and reverse-engineered the life out of Etsy, like vultures on fleshy road kill, leaving nothing to be imitated but unattractive needlepoint directing us to Jesus, and license plate-adorned furniture. And Etsy does nothing about it, hiding their intellectual property policies deep in their Terms and Conditions and cloaking the identity of creativity thieves.

Now, while I admittedly advise my clients that hosting a page on Etsy is akin to shipping their original products to China with a note that says, “COPY THIS!,” I do not hold the opinion that Etsy is the only Mad Max in this crazy arena. Ebay, Amazon, and other mass retailers are also guilty of holding out their hands for money while, at the same time, turning a blind eye to the consequences of allowing sellers unfettered and unsupervised activity on their websites.

Anyone who’s followed lawsuits against companies like Amazon knows that these large companies refuse to take responsibility for the widespread infringement that is cultivated on their websites. So, while these companies are proud to brag that they are making heaps of money from their services, they delicately shy away from taking responsibility for the illegal activities that occur on a daily basis as a result of their services.

 

Designs by artist Ilse Bernthal used without permission

Designs by artist Ilse Bernthal used without permission

 

In lawsuits against companies like Amazon and Ebay, their successful defense is that they have proper channels in place for the reporting of infringement. But just review the practical application of these reporting procedures that many artists have experienced; the report of infringement is made, assurances are given that the products have been taken down, and two weeks later, almost all of the products are back up.

Or let’s look at Paul Richmond’s case: he has been reporting knock-offs of his paintings that have been posted on Ebay for over two years, and, the paintings are still being sold on Ebay today. He’s given up. So how, exactly, are these procedures really working?

For companies who are making billions of dollars, you would think that they would expend at least some resources towards curbing and controlling the prevalent infringement that goes hand-in-hand with their services. But the stark and nasty truth is, they don’t have to. They can pass the buck – legally – and therefore, they’re insulated – legally – from caring and taking action.

Because, frankly, why should they? They’re making money, and that’s all that matters. Presently, Ebay, Inc. is estimated to be worth $60 billion, Amazon worth $27 billion and Etsy worth $700 million. To give you an idea of what this means, Amazon makes $2,000 per second (yeah, that’s right-per second). And personally, I can’t wait until Alibaba goes public, which could make their valuation around $200 billion.

My client who got “DIY’ed” had her design ripped right from her website. No Etsy-assisted plays were made in that case. The problem is when companies like Etsy are essentially encouraging hobbyists to “DIY” everyone, the culture and acceptance of this practice are bolstered, and no one sees what the problem is. But I do. And artists and designers do.

 

Emily DanchukGuest blogger Emily Danchuk is an intellectual property attorney and founder of Copyright Collaborative, which is designed to educate, empower and unionize artists in the fight against copyright theft.

 

 

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Comments

  1. I have thought long and hard about piracy of say my art and though the UK and for that matter International law is on my side I cannot afford to defend it.

    But I can post the master copy of my art and the pirated art alongside it on all social media sites and shame the pirates. Pirated art will always be inferior to that of the commissioning artist!

    Ultimately you can cocoon your art in your studio and keep it off your website for it to never see daylight or you just publish it because on a certain date you made it…dated it…signed it…photographed it…catalogued it.

    • Phil,

      Thanks for your comments. In addition to doing the “poor man’s copyright” as you describe above (“publish it…dated it…signed it…photographed it…catalogued it.”) you’ll want to file copyright applications for your work as well, if you’re in the US or attempting to enforce your rights in the US.

      Best,
      Emily

      • Hi Emily any litigation I enter into is strictly under UK legislation we do not have to register art for it to be copyright protected…it simply is. USA transgressors would have to appear in the UK court of law!
        Copyright is both national and international.

        • Phil, actually in the US once a work is created the artist owns the copyright. It does not have to be registered, but doing so helps to establish the timeline and certainly adds tangible proof of copyright if needed.

  2. Great article. And one that needed to be told. I have seen this piracy on Etsy and I wondered how they can get away with it. I thought it must be a hit and run scheme, but the audacity of some DIY crafters keep churning out these infringements as if they had created them, themselves. And without apology. And what also bothers me is that Etsy is okay with it, in they own way of thinking. But this also gives buyers the wrong idea; it’s okay to buy it because they did not make it. In addition to this point I would to add that this kind of selling and buying takes away from all the other, “original” art, many crafters are trying to make a living from. In other words, their art is being passed up for this copy art and losing potential sales. I hope the law changes or there will be a whole lot more, “starving artist”.

    • Marko,

      I believe that you’re right-the law has to change. Art is too important a piece of culture for the laws to dismiss or overlook the individuals who create it. And “starving artists” need to take on their job of standing up for their rights and enforcing them.

      Emily

      • A friend of mine who’s Canadian and an artist, has far more ability to enforce her copyrights, because they don’t have the obstacle of registration standing in the way to simply use the courts in a logical way. She can use what we call in the US small claims court, when she has a case that has low damages but that nonetheless is important to pursue. Even with the (now ‘optional’) registration in the US that allows suing for statutory damages, most cases aren’t big enough money to interest lawyers, so the ability to enforce our rights is a joke. A small claims copyright court is being considered, but the last proposed version I read required the defendant to agree to be sued! What started as a good concept may now be an additional hurdle, if it were to pass the way it’s proposed. We need a practical, affordable way to enforce our rights, and doing away with registration would be a start. The registration office could be retooled to handle a (better written!) small claims process.

        Infringement of my art got to the point where I had to give up income from a POD site, in order to remove all my un-watermarked images from my sites. Watermarked replacements were unsuited for making reprints on the POD site, but were infringed almost never. So I regained a lot of time and energy that I used to expend on sending DMCA takedowns. My sales of original artworks has continued to improve, but a whole other sector of profit potential is cut off due to people who think they may take anything they find online. These people need to have copyright law explained to them by a judge. Sadly, with our current system, that almost never happens. Artists often are left with naming and shaming, and many big co’s are on that list, having gotten art from the net and slapped it on home decor to sell in big chain stores. The culture of stealing is a growing problem. The laws as written look good, they just fail in the ability to enforce them.

        • Cindy,

          You’re absolutely DEAD on!

          Thanks for sharing!

          Emily

          • Kathy Jeffords says:

            Cindy, I am with you. Every day, I am saddened to think of how sites like Fine Art America, Society 6, Zazzle, etc. could be supplementing my income. But I simply cannot put my work out there without some kind of indication that it IS mine. I’m a writer as well as an artist and use my original creative writings and poetry in my work…as bad as images are ripped off and disrespected, words are even more so. I put on each image that I put up that the words in it are my own and are copyrighted to me…it doesn’t matter. Every time I put up something new, without fail, within two weeks, SOMEONE somewhere has typed up my words and posted them on Facebook or Tumblr or Twitter with no credit or crediting them to unknown. And while we’re on the subject of websites that are massively soliciting infringement…Tumblr and Instagram are among the worst, in my experience. Tumblr and Instagram users seem to think NOTHING of taking an image from wherever, cropping the copyright info right off, altering it to fit their needs (using some kind of filter on Instagram, for instance) and uploading it…many times they even put their OWN watermark on it. And do not get me started on the “image farms” as I call them, on Facebook…that gain millions of followers by taking someone’s photo or art, pasting someone else’s words on them, and share-share-sharing…with no mention of the content’s creators. Something has got to be done, because today, like so many days, I’ve had another instance of infringement…or rather, I FOUND another instance…and every time it happens, I wish I had some other way to make my income…if I did, I would pull my art down from the internet and be done with this. It has become that heartbreaking to deal with.

        • This is a problem that has several aspects to it:

          1) The growing sense of entitlement that all art (music, visual art, etc.) should just be free. Yeah, well maybe houses should be free and medical services, cars and food but that’s not the reality. Trying telling a doctor or mechanic that their services are rendered for free. Yeah, not likely. Art takes time, tools, heating, rent, that all cost $$$. So this growing bs cacophony (of the younger generation?) that it’s free man is just a guise for theft.

          2) Etsy and other market places that legally skirt the operation of theft on their sites. Until that loophole is changed in some meaningful way artists are just going to keep getting ripped off and Etsy and the resellers make the $$$

          3) That a lot of buyers (not all but a lot), and I hate to say this, are fine with buying ripped off items. They either know and don’t care or see the price point and think, wow, what a deal! How to educate the buying public that it even if the reseller says they are the maker of that item, they need to know how to question that assumption or advertisement. Getting the real McKoy means the items is not going to be cheap because the artist needs to recoup all the time, materials and tools it took to make that item.

          4) How many artists/artisans/creators actually have the time to mount a legal front to this? Seriously. Because we wear ALL the hats that are needed to run a business (accountant, cleaning staff, media director, copy writer, creator, etc.) realistically for most this isn’t going to happen. So what can one do?

          Well I like what Cindy came up with and I am bound to agree. I refuse to put my artwork up anywhere without a watermark. Also when I post my images they are at the lowest resolution that still retains a pretty good image but when it is enlarged becomes pixelated quickly. Nothing above 250kb. That way if they try to download and duplicate the image onto anything it’ll look like crap. So I make most of my coin from originals but also sell small giclee prints that use REAL epson inks and are done on archival watercolour inkjet paper (that don’t come cheap).

          Until people actually care that they are stealing and recognize it, it’s an uphill thing and the world is lesser for it.

          • Wow. I thought that I was not getting any sales because I am still relatively a newbie as a artist. Five years ago when I got sick and had to retire on disability, I took up digital painting. I know digital artwork is not the same as watercolors or acrylics or oils but I do put a lot of time into it. For me, digitally painting started out as an element in my life to help me “rehab” back into life. At first I did not know all the nuances of copyright laws and it was Fine Art America who pushed me in the right direction. Now all I do is digitally create or digitally paint a pretty bad PD image and make it beautiful. I have not sold or seem to be selling any of my artwork, but I do and will protect and respects the rights of other artist and creators. Who knows maybe some of my art will become sell-able after I die and I too understand the cliché “starving artists” very well now.

            Blessing to all the artists that read this.
            Bruce.
            ps. Please go to my website and do two things for me.

            1) Tell me if I have a piece that is even similar to one of your pieces and I will immediately remove it. (ps please remember I was very sick the first couple of years after my work related stress breakdown.)

            2) If you like or don’t like anything you see, please tell me and let me know why, or what I need to do to improve my artwork.

            Thank you

  3. I have often wondered about a related topic…. I use book pages and printed papers in my artwork, I’ve seen many other collage artists use photo’s out of magazines as portions of their work, fabric artists use fabrics with designs by others, are we infringing on any copyrights?

    • Kerri — Your collage practice may fall under ‘fair use’ as social commentary. That said, ‘fair use’ is technically a defense against copyright infringement. I suppose you could say that context is King in this area… it would likely boil down to how exactly you use the printed page. Look up Cariou vs. Prince.

      • Kerri,

        Brian is right-it very may well fall under fair use, depending on several things, including how prominent the print on the pages is. But if the pages are simply “in the background” (read: scraps of collage that don’t have discernable, prominent text), you’re probably okay.

        Emily

    • In Canada, if you use more than 75% of the image then yes, you are infringing on copyright. However it all depends on how old that photograph is. I think after 75 years it becomes public domain but you’d have to check to see what laws apply. Basically, if it’s not yours, it’s not yours.

  4. Etsy turns a blind eye to it because it puts a LOT of money in their pockets. Oh, they will try and sound humane about it. They claim to take the stance that they won’t get involved without the copyright holder filing a claim. But, what Etsy doesn’t tell you is that they don’t HAVE to take that stance. They just CHOOSE to take that stance.

    See, that stance allows them to talk a good game while they make money hand over fist from all the unlicensed Disney, Hello Kitty and comic book stuff that sells like hotcakes. They can make money that way.

    Setting up Etsy so that any shop that sold that stuff would have to prove they have a license would slow everything down, require Etsy to spend more money to hire more people to police the site, etc. So, gee, why not choose the one choice that allows the items to make them money?

    Imagine that.

    • Jackson,

      Well put. The problem with companies that make money hand over fist and essentially control our legislature is that they don’t have to use morals to make decisions; they don’t have to be able to “sleep at night.” So with profits being their only concern, the result is less than startling.

      Emily

      • Exactly! I could not have said it better than Jackson and Emily. Many Print on Demand (PODs) are like this, too, and IMO treading on thin ice.

  5. Well said everyone. Emily, To your point, no, people do not appreciate the work it takes. Technology changed all that staring with the instant photocopier! (Even the most enticing book covers or printed products are remembered by author/producer and the illustrator’s name is buried somewhere on page 3 or in 6 pt. type on the back.) People “love” art because it is already there for them to enjoy and they assume it is some kind of therapy for the artist to release their talent. As an illustrator I tried to differentiate myself on Etsy by controlling my work from sketch to final product and customizing. 2 things happened. My sewn product design outsold my paper art by 10x. Much to my surprise people often did not realize or care that it was my art and asked me to make something in Dr. Seuss characters or Winnie the Pooh!! Double whammy copyright insults. Others ask me to make new art in a book at no extra cost! Over time I educated many sellers using open sourced “vintage” art on their products and convinced them to make it truly exclusive using my art at a percentage. This was nice but pasting swiped Alice in Wonderland or Dolly Dimple illustrations to their baby blocks or shirts still outsold my original. I am happy to say my unique cloth book design has not been swiped because it is too laborious to mass produce. Still, people from post it to their DIY pages on Pinterest not their must buy lists. I have gotten some good free publicity especially I the UK but no reproduction deals and I’ve handmade 100’s of unique alphabet books for functionality and sentimental appeal not their artistic appeal.. That makes me proud but still poor. Best wishes to all.

    • Joanne,

      I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, “People “love” art because it is already there for them to enjoy.” I’m not sure where this idea that art is there for the taking came from, but it’s obviously pretty prevalent among the masses. Even licensed art from big companies who enforce their rights pretty starkly is misunderstood-people just seem to take what they want.

      Emily

  6. Your point that “(such websites) can pass the buck – legally – and therefore, they’re insulated – legally – from caring and taking action” is important. In fact, if you read their terms of service (and how many non-lawyers do that?) you’ll find that they pass the litigation buck right back to the user.

    The site that most baffles me is Pinterest. Clearly the point of Pinterest is to pin images that you see online – other people’s copyrighted images. But if you read Pinterest’s terms of service, it states that you agree to only pin or repin images that you have the copyright for, i.e. your own original work. Say what? Who uses Pinterest that way?

    The scary part for Pinterest users is that the terms of service also say that if a copyright hold takes legal action (which they have every right to do), the user is responsible not only for their own legal costs, but for Pinterest’s legal costs as well. Talk about passing the buck!

    I just don’t get how Pinterest can get away with this, and why hardly anyone is talking about it.

    • Barbra,

      I agree-Pinterest is another offender. Putting a policy up that’s hidden away is an extremely inefficient way of handling this problem. I can’t imagine why these sites don’t have a pop-up with terms that you have to agree to would be expensive/burdensome. At least that would do something!

      Emily

      • Pinterest keeps asking /telling me I “qualify for business account”. What does that do for me? As I said peoples share my original design on their DIY boards all the time. I can’t even comment or it makes me the business loser twice.

  7. Excellent Article. There really need to be more safeguards in place from these large companies.

  8. Excellent article. We can thank the net for the proliferation of the mindset that everything is free, including music. Why do you think the music biz is in such bad shape? Everyone seems to be out for themselves these days and they’re going to make money any which way they can. I’m not sure what the answer is.

  9. I think you missed the whole point that your client can post her designs in just her website and they will still get lifted by china…because copyright law does not affect them. I don’t blame Etsy/ebay/Amazon they are actually platforms for people to sell on…Just think of the amount of items listed on these sites and the amount of people..it will take massive amount of people to police all of it.

    Artist should take proper steps on how to protect their designs by filing copyrights or trademarks for it before their items becomes huge..once you try to sell your item you list it on hundreds of different sharing sites, who shares to their sister, who shares to their neighbors, who shares to their work and their work shares to other people and by the time it reaches others you don’t know who the actual artist is. I make pendants, I buy collages of images I am thinking these people created their designs and I can use for pendants…but once in a while I will get an email from the actual owner of the image and I will tell them where I got them from and take it down… otherwise I am thinking these images designers are selling their own work ( unless it is something I recognize as disney etc etc I stay away from that) The internet has made this world very small and at the same-time very big…it is very hard to keep something in one place and it is even harder to keep an original idea even if protected from china getting it…it really doesn’t matter if we follow the rules here but they have zero rules there. I watched this lady on shark tank trying to sell her cute baby diapers she sent her design to be created cheaper in china where they made it and then sold it under her at a cheapest price. she wasted all her money fighting it and lost. You can’t ask people to follow the rules when their governments tells them they have none.

    • Leslie,

      Your statement that, “I make pendants, I buy collages of images I am thinking these people created their designs and I can use for pendants…but once in a while I will get an email from the actual owner of the image and I will tell them where I got them from and take it down… otherwise I am thinking these images designers are selling their own work ( unless it is something I recognize as disney etc etc I stay away from that)” proves my point-What I understand from your post is that you can just take peoples’ works of art for your own use. I’d really (truly) like to know where you got that idea from, as that is a main issue. There must be safeguards in place to protect original artists.

      And your statement that, ” I don’t blame Etsy/ebay/Amazon they are actually platforms for people to sell on…Just think of the amount of items listed on these sites and the amount of people..it will take massive amount of people to police all of it” is why things don’t change. We are smart enough, I would hope, to think of alternative ways for protection of artwork to be effected. A simple pop-up, with a copyright/trademark statement would probably help at least a bit-and that costs virtually nothing to do. A policy where the infringer is kicked off the website once they’ve been legitimately accused of infringement would help too. But thinking that there’s only one way to handle the problem is a narrow-minded view that many hold.

      Emily

      • Kathy Jeffords says:

        Emily, Etsy actually has such a pop up when you’re listing items that are instant downloads. I assume they have to do this since the files are hosted on their servers. The pop-up says: “By adding files to this listing, you guarantee that you have rights to the content. Etsy may remove content per our Copyright and IP Policy, at which point buyers may not be able to access purchased files. See our Terms for more information.” However, since there are 18,000 results for “Disney printable” I don’t think it is helping much.

        People sadly are 1) ignorant, 2) lazy and 3) using “everyone else is doing it” as their moral compass instead of thinking for themselves and/or researching what is right and wrong.

        Pile on top of that the fact that many (if not most) artists won’t be bothered to even file a DMCA complaint when they find their work being used commercially…it’s just a recipe for disaster.

        I get almost as angry with my fellow artists as I do with the thieves themselves…because, yes, the thieves are the ones stealing…but we’re the ones training them that they can get away with it.

        There are SO many shops *on every marketplace/venue online imaginable* selling those pillows. The art has been stolen from hundreds of artists (including myself). The pillow sellers would be shut down if the artists would file the reports, but by and large they do choose to turn a blind eye to it.

  10. Emily
    So, guess who I was in a room with this week, speaking up as the voice of the Content Creator, a completely different voice from the Lawyers on the panel. I like to make my explanations personal.

    I heard the lawyers describe Collective Licensing. And then I gave them a re-boot, legal style.

    I said, this is how Collective Licensing works for the 6 of you on the panel (which included policy lawyers from EBAY and Google). I said, so you dudes go work ALLLLLLLLLLLLLL this week. At the end of the week, I will come by and pick up your paychecks. AND THEN…. (dragging the pause out)… and then I will split the pot so each of you gets a portion of the pot, that does not commensurate with how long and hard you worked and how little the other person didnt, work, that is.

    Their expressions were precious….. Point made for the ARTS!!!

    Sincerely
    Carrie Devorah
    562 688 2883

    Founder
    THE CENTER FOR COPYRIGHTS INTEGRITY
    http://www.centerforcopyrightintegrity.com
    Where ARTS, IP, ID, IT and ENFORCEMENT Come Together In One Voice Against Online Theft Of Content and Commerce
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I93F73UYmsw&feature=youtu.be

  11. Love you : ))))

  12. As a photographer, I feel copyright infringement is possibly the biggest threat to my continued existence. By most any measure, more than 80% of the uses of my work are illegal. That’s right, less than 20% of the people who use my work bothered to do the right thing. These illegal uses include everything from blogs all the way up to major multinational companies. Copyright law as it exists now leaves it nearly impossible for small rights holders to have a level field due to the costs and risks involved. Websites all hide under the DMCA and claim all content is somehow “user generated” so they are not responsible. Sure a copyright registration can help, but only in the USA, and we live in a global economy.

    As artists, I think we’re all responsible for solving this problem. Nobody is going to do it for us. The non-artists would love to have free art, so they aren’t going to help. The artists who don’t bother to watermark, send takedowns, or demand payment for infringements make it harder for those who do, and further reinforce the no-harm no-fowl attitude that has become so prevalent.

    Unfortunately, the problem has spiraled so far out of control this year that I have stopped adding any more new work to the internet. The risks are just not outweighing the benefits anymore. I’d rather be creating more art that nobody sees than spending my afternoon sending DMCAs.

  13. Thanks much for this discussion. I have been appalled at the lack of understanding fellow students in my adult classes have of copyright law. They just grab any image they see off the internet. And when I made a concerned comment on Facebook’s privacy policy (read NONE), friends who are actual practicing artists made disparaging remarks as if I were paranoid or selfish not to publish my images. The gist was I should share freely and I would reap the “rewards”.
    Well- I’ve spent a year on Fine Art America and I haven’t sold a single thing, not even an image I posted as a fund raiser for a friend with cancer. I am beginning to strongly suspect that FAA is ripping off my images somehow. I know when I visit my page not logged in, features often are buggy- could not choose a frame option, for example and support never answered my question why.

    So I am seriously thinking of taking the whole thing down from FAA. I have spent a lot of time plugging it and thought it would be more convenient for potential customers to print any size they wanted, but as I said, it’s been a year and nothing.

    Does anyone know if Fine Art America is safe or not? Am I getting ripped off without my knowledge? Someone mentioned it earlier in this discussion, but I didn’t understand if they thought it was any better than Etsy or not.

    Thanks, Ann

    • Ann, in my observation, you need to really hustle/promote your FAA page on other websites to make sales. It’s a catch 22 because you have to make sales to get a good search ranking on FAA, but until you have a good search ranking you won’t be find-able by anyone browsing the FAA. Even after I’ve made sales on FAA, I can’t find most of my images on FAA unless I use very specific keywords. In many cases, image libraries and stock houses have also bought up many of the top search results – my images on FAA by way of agencies are much higher in the results and they’ve never sold once (at least that the agency has ever paid me for). So I don’t think they’re ripping anyone off by misreporting sales. But you’ve gotta understand that you have to do pretty much all of the legwork to make sales and the system is heavily biased against anyone new.

      As for safe? Unfortunately, the lack of a good watermarking option (preferably with a customization option to include the artist’s name) makes FAA a riskier proposition. I find many blogs hotlinking my images files from the FAA server with no link to the sales page and nothing on the image itself to identify it as mine. What’s worse, it seems many people think FAA images returned in Google Image search are public domain since the watermark does not explicitly say “copyright” on it so they outright download and modify/rehost the images. I’ve had to contact several businesses about one image in particular that seems to be routinely taken from my FAA page and demand payment for their unauthorized use. I don’t believe I have ever even sold a print of that image on FAA.

      Anyone concerned about unauthorized use of their images should learn to use the “Search by Image” feature on Google. The results can sometimes be very surprising and quite sobering.

      Everyone needs to strike their own balance. Some people who share freely seem to do well. I certainly have not had that experience at all. I’ve had to work damn hard for each and every print sale or license I’ve made.

      • In regards to FFA I investigated them and when I read that they wanted me to send them my originals that’s where I drew the line. I have worked in the printing arts and I KNOW that when they want to shoot the original it is so THEY can do the fine art reproductions and the owner of the image has to trust that they aren’t getting ripped off. Well, call me paranoid but I said no way to that agreement. When I do large reproductions I get a local company to do the reproduction and I send a file over that is high enough quality to do the job but they NEVER get my original. NEVER. And I REALLY feel for photographers because I think their art is even less valued than painters.

        • Gwen, do you mean FAA? I have a lot of friends on the FAA site, and no one mentioned anything about shipping their art to be photographed. This is the first I’ve heard of it. I wouldn’t do it either. My art only ships to buyers who have paid for my art in full. Everything else is reproduced from JPEG or PNG files that I create. I feel people know about copyright, but really don’t care about it. We are less and less a society of ethics, and more about all we can get for free. And on top of it, the easy path seems to be the preferred path.

          • Yes FAA. Lol, I wonder what FFA would stand for..I could say something but no, lol! I researched that about a year or so ago and I think that is the reason I decided against it. I am VERY careful what sites I put my work up on. I hope your friends are doing well there though, regardless because I really wish ALL artists to make a decent living at it.

      • Thanks for the mention of Google Image Search. I wasn’t aware I could actually upload an image and have Google search for it- although I’m suspicious of what Google will do with uploaded images. To me, they are the equivalent of the “samaritan” computer on the TV show Person of Interest.

        I just tried my most popular image and the only search result was my blog, so that’s some comfort.

        Another note: my experience with keywords on Fine Art America was equally buggy. I tried putting all kinds of recognizable keywords and never saw my images in the first several rows of search results. I even tried my own name and found that some artist with an entirely different name was signing MY name to their artworks. That was really weird!

        I even tried FAA’s promise of showing your artwork in the 3rd row if you put certain links on your own website and I NEVER saw my images there. When I complained to support, they just repeated the instructions as if I was doing something wrong. I have an advanced degree in electronics so I doubt that’s the case. I just think they are at least sloppy, and at most crooked.

        • Ann, you need only upload a small web-resolution file. In fact, in some cases, I have observed that Google’s matching algorithm works better with smaller files than larger ones. You can even upload a watermarked file. The algorithm is robust enough that it will produce matches even if they have small modifications such as the addition or deletion of a watermark, cropping, or resizing.

          Heck, one time, I found a match on one of my images where someone had pasted a Bollywood-ish portrait of themselves over half the image!

  14. LOL Gwen! Amazing that my photog friend does sell really well on FAA. She’s always announcing sales on FB. I’ve never signed up because I have read the site is a haven for scammers- people emailing artists and saying they want to buy an original painting, and then it becomes a whole scamming thing. A lot of image theft, too.

    • I have been on FAA for years and never heard of them asking someone to send an original to be scanned? I upload my own jpegs to the site and have control of adding and removing whatever art I choose. And I make a very good income from FAA, one of the better online POD sites. And I have sold a lot of original paintings through people contacting me on FAA. As with any site you risk an unscrupulous person wanting to use your art, but this is true no matter what site you list on, and people send me scam e-mails through my own site, this is going to happen no matter where you put your art online, you just have to be savvy about it. art.com is one of the worst places where people steal/copy art, simply because it is highly visible and shows up ranked high in Google, as does FAA, but that is not the fault of FAA, or art.com, it is the fault of the person who steals the art. You can choose to not put your art on the internet and will be blissfully safe from online scams, copyright infringement, etc. but how much of your art will you sell? If you aren’t worried about making a living from your art, no big deal, but if you are, you pretty much have to have an online presence these days, and it’s only going to get more and more necessary. More art sales now happen online than they do offline, and this is the future, here to stay. With any business there are pros and cons, you just have to be prepared for it and deal with it, it’s business, it’s not art.

  15. I think the most depressing email I received recently was from the company that licenses my art, warning their stable of artists that if they infringe on copyright, they will be fined, not to mention causing the company to lose accounts. It’s so unfair to artists with integrity. I feel those that are infringing are punishing those that don’t as far as this situation is concerned. One needs a really thick skin to be an artist these days. Not sure if there is an answer. There are programs that even remove watermarks.

    • Hi Laura,
      I am aware that there are programs available to remove watermarks. My husband and I both come from technical fields and he has a good suggestion. If you really want a watermark that will stick, make your own in a photo editing program that supports layers (like the big gorilla that starts with a P), and then merge the layer down onto your image. He feels that this would be a lot harder to remove than those that are created by programs with a watermark feature.

      • Hi Ann, thanks for your comment! That’s exactly what I do to protect my work along with uploading at 72dpi at a small size. This one person that my husband’s family knows claims he can take off watermarks done with “P.” But not so sure I believe him, and this person I’m referring to is a major techie guy. Amazing how he brags about it- and he bragged about it to a photographer friend! There is a major lack of respect for so many things in our society.

  16. I deal with copyright infringement on a daily basis, just yesterday I found another paint party studio using my art, blatant copyright infringement as she just printed a small image right off the internet and had people paint it and she got paid for it. I demanded she stop of course and submit payment for all the proceeds immediately. Well, guess what? She did! And you want to know why? First because I confronted her, 2nd I demanded she pay me for illegal use of my art and thirdly, because I have a copyright infringement case against another paint party studio establishment for the exact same thing, and let her know about it!! So, lesson learned here artists, DON’T sit idly by and do nothing! All this does is hurt all of us, we need to be proactive and make people aware that it IS NOT OKAY to use other artists work without their permission. Here is a link to the copyright case if anybody cares to check into and share to get the word out that we artists DO take copyright infringement seriously and WILL do something about it: http://conlinpa.com/2014/07/28/amended-complaint-filed-duncanson-v-wine-canvas-development-llc/#.VBiMLPldWs0

  17. Well I am VERY glad to hear of positive experiences and sales at FAA. You have now piqued my curiosity and I am going to look back at FAA to see what their policies now are. It is possible I got them mixed up with another online art sale company. There are SO many. It all becomes a blur after awhile. I take the time to read ALL of their policies and ask questions because, in the end, only we can protect ourselves. And congrats on recuperating loses on your work!

  18. Copyright actually discourages creativity and innovation. Artists should absolutely be allowed to ‘replicate’ other artists. See:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/johanna_blakley_lessons_from_fashion_s_free_culture?language=en

    • Thanks for your comment, Eric. I know your opinion on this subject is contrary to most artists and the readers here, so it will likely spur further conversation.

      I’d like to point out that Eric made this comment on Facebook and I invited him to place his comment here. It might not be popular, but he is entitled to his view, and I would encourage you to watch the TED talk he links too.

      What do you think of speaker’s points? What would your response to her be?

      • Time and time again, people take one of my images, download the web sized version, blow it up onto a canvas, and then use it as a template to paint on, almost like a paint by numbers. Is there really any creativity being encouraged here??? Are the resultant paintings really going to look much different from the original photograph?

        Use my photo as a source of inspiration, not a tracing template!

        • Tom, do they then try to sell that, well, whatever that is that they have then done over your image? How do you find out that they have done that?

          • Yes, I do find people reselling my work sometimes. I’ve found someone trying to sell smaller resolution files as stock imagery. I’ve found someone selling exact copy 20×30 canvas “paintings” of my work for 130 Euros each. I’ve even found someone on FAA selling my work as greeting cards. Low-resolution web files are sufficiently large to be used for card prints without too much quality degradation. Larger prints can be made fairly easily by running small resolution files through a Photoshop filter to clean them up or impart a painting effect on them. Watermarks, unless extremely invasive, are easily removed or cropped from the corners of images.

            Unlike fashion where you can’t download a new dress, you can download an exact copy of a photograph with almost no effort. And like has been mentioned on this thread, most buyers of photography will go for the cheaper item as long as it looks just as good – they really don’t care who created it. So while I see where the argument comes from on TED, I don’t agree with it in the case of something that can be exactly duplicated with no real additional effort.

            As for how I’ve found some of the examples I’ve listed above, I used Google’s “search by image” feature.

    • uh- did anyone read the article Eric refers to?
      Because I don’t get it. It seems to me the speaker is making the point that the fashion industry doesn’t have copyright protection because it’s too impractical and too expensive to attempt. Then it cites several designers who obviously see a problem because they are trying to attain copyright protection.

      Another point it makes is that high-end designers don’t need copyright protection because their customers are more discriminating. Not being foolish enough to spend my hard earned dollars on designer clothing, I can still see the value of paying more for higher quality materials that you can feel. I DON’T see the comparison with art. You don’t hold an artwork against your skin, or use it to protect yourself from the elements. A knock-off canvas is going to “look and feel” pretty much like the original. And I don’t think the customer will know the difference if a copycat puts their own name on it.

      I don’t see a strong argument for abandoning the idea of copyright protection for artists. If you’re trying to say copyright law has strangled creativity, I just don’t see that in the world of art today.

    • Eric,

      I wonder if you’re an artist, maker or designer? And I agree with the other comments that fashion and art are very different animals. I think it takes a violation of your personal, sacred rights of someone in China or elsewhere ripping you off to feel the way that most artists do. I understand using others’ artwork as inspiration or criticizing it and transforming it (see the barbie case), but to have someone just take your artwork? Unless you’ve been a victim, I don’t really see how you can understand what these people have been through.

      Emily

  19. I’ve worked in the fashion industry for a short time, and I see the comparison as apples and oranges in relation to art and music. Many high end designers are constantly having to deal with knock off designs ( Louis Vuitton for example ), that take money out of their pockets. Many RTW fashions are indeed inspired from ( or “infringed from” ) high end clothing; the big difference is that those consumers who buy the high end fashion clothing aren’t going to go to WalMart for the knock off. We’re talking about different markets within the fashion industry itself. Personally, the concept of copyright doesn’t strangle me at all creatively as all of my art comes completely from my own mind. Yes, I’m certainly influenced by art, but I’m on my own path regardless of what anyone else is doing. The problem is there is too much copying and not enough true artistic visionaries. It has happened in music, and that’s why sales are down ( fact ). Too much mediocrity flooding all the markets. Look within yourself for inspiration, not outwardly.

  20. http://www.madartdesigns.com/blog/the-business-of-paint-party-studios-and-copyright-infringement ~ Good read on a serious copyright infringement situation, we are talking big bucks being made here folks!!

  21. Does anyone recommend any particular POD art site ? Are any of them at least somewhat helpful regarding protecting the artists from being ripped off ?

    Thanks very much.

  22. Anne, one thing that will help you from being copied is too use only low-resolution images of your work online. There are POD sites that prevent uploading of images, this is pretty common. Check my directory of places to sell online to find POD providers http://www.artsyshark.com/125-places-to-sell/

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