As an artist, how do you know when you are crossing the line between being “inspired” by someone’s work, and stealing it? And should you cross that line, how should you handle it when called out?
We had those issues come up in my art group – my Fly Tribe – this week.
One of my friends and tribe members, Deborah Velasquez, discovered that someone had copied a piece of her original art, and had it for sale on Etsy.
Click here to see Deborah’s original art, also posted for sale on Etsy. I am not going to link to the work of the copycat, but believe me when I tell you, it was visually nearly identical – just a slight change in font, and photocopied onto cheap paper – and of course, way less expensive. It was not so much using the same words that was the problem, but the layout was identical right down to using the coffee ring for the “o” in coffee, which is what makes the art so distinctive.
When the copy immediately brings to mind the original, THAT is when the line is crossed.
Now I’ll tell you the story of what came next…
Deborah mentioned it on our facebook page (this is now the second time it has happened with this same print!) Of course, we all encouraged her to protect her copyright, and she sent the person a cease and desist notice, letting her know she was presenting copyrighted material as her own art, and needed to remove it immediately.
Meanwhile, one of our little investigators went to the woman’s Pinterest page, discovered that she had pinned Deborah’s original work (complete with copyright info) on her board, so there is no way she could have thought she was merely using something that was in the public domain. AND, she had also done a post on her blog showing a photo of “her” work and letting people know it was available in her Etsy store.
Within a day or two she removed it from her Etsy store, but she seemed reluctant to remove it from her blog. A couple of us went to her blog and left gentle comments that it was not okay to copy others work and present it as your own, and requested that she remove the photo. She deleted the comments, and the photo remained. Deborah repeated her original cease and desist letter, and another person wrote a VERY gentle comment about needing to delete the photo, and both the letter and comment were deleted. Hours and hours went by and the photo still remained. By late afternoon she had changed the settings on her blog so that all comments had to be approved before going up, but Deborah persisted, and by late evening the photo finally came down.
I found the situation a bit shocking. Not that the copying/theft happened. In the art world, it happens all the time. People think they have stumbled upon some obscure thing they can copy and no one will ever know, and sometimes, I’m sure that is true. But in this day in age, there are pretty good trails to follow, and within the art community and it’s networks, discovery happens frequently. The shocking part to me was the way she handled it.
I tried to put myself in her position. I have to admit that I was probably, in my younger years, a little “too influenced” by others’ work. I have a hard time believing I wouldn’t have been mortified by being called out, and would have done everything in my power to make it right immediately. I can’t imagine bowing my back and stubbornly persisting in keeping the photo up, especially when she so obviously knew she had done wrong and fixing it was so easy.
Anyway, this episode had a happy ending, at least for now. Deborah did not have to hire an attorney to defend her copyright, and the piece was removed from the offender’s shop and blog. I hope the woman learned a lesson, and maybe if enough of us tell the stories as they happen, fewer theft’s of people’s art will occur. I hope so.