Oh my!!!! After my last post on the subject of copying and copyright, “Sharing images on the internet – it’s easy, but is it good?” I have been overwhelmed by the responses on this very vexed question. It is such a minefield, and folks get very heated about it – and no wonder. There are many aspects to consider, including artist’s livelihoods, and how much of it comes down to inspiration versus jumping on a bandwagon. As I said in that post, copying can be good for pushing artists to constantly experiment and evolve, and to force innovation. Like all artists since time immemorial, we have always looked to each other for inspiration. And like a well exercised muscle, the more that we see, the more that we experiment and do, the better we get at coming up with great ideas and new work.
By the way, I’ve included this very beautiful image by Alabama Chanin, who actively encourage people to copy their designs. Instead of only selling the finished works (all stitched and cut by hand by local artisans – therefore each garment is worth thousands of dollars), generously, cleverly, they have built an even bigger business on selling fabric, kits, and totally gorgeous DIY books (you really must check out their website here). It’s an aesthetic and lifestyle that appeals to a much broader audience than those that can afford their clothes, and their business is thriving.
However, in many instances, copying can mean that profits are channelled away from the originator. It happens to lots of artists, in a very real way.
All of us agree that straight out copying of another person’s work without their permission is unfair.
Isabel, in her comment on my previous post tells about someone actually using her image of her work for their own avatar on social media; Tara Bradford wrote a post on her own website about being ripped off as a photographer, despite having several strategies in place to stop it, and having to spend a good deal of time chasing up and removing images from Pinterest. And recently, Inaluxe have had issues with another person blatantly copying their work, to be put up for sale in their own online shop (and it’s not the first time copyright has been breached for Inaluxe either). Although the issue has now been resolved, and that person has removed the offending items, Inaluxe said that this experience was “disruptive, emotionally and mentally exhausting.”
At the very least, Isabel’s story is about blatant misrepresentation; at its worst, Inaluxe’s story is about lost profits – pretty rough for a two person team working out of rural Victoria.
Copying is not right. But that doesn’t mean it will go away if we hide away from it. Copying is not ever going to go away.
We must face up to that fact. We also must face up to the idea that copying has been part of the creative landscape, like, forever.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
Protecting your images and text
There are a range of strategies, from easy to complex. These strategies help, but if people are determined, they’ll still copy your images and/or text anyway. The only really sure-fire way to protect your work is to not put it out there in the first place.
- Use low-res, small images. If the screen quality is low, people are less likely to paste it everywhere.
- Use high-tech image protection. However, these things only stop a right-click on a mouse-type stuff. If you can see the image on your screen, a simple screen dump will capture that image.
- Include a watermark on your image. The more obvious the watermark is, the less likely your image is to be spread. People want pretty pictures, with no ‘blemishes’. If it’s not so obvious, people will mostly be happy to share your image, with your watermark. This is not foolproof though; watermarks can be removed with a bit of clever photoshop action.
- Use Pinterest’s own ‘Do Not Pin’ code on your website. You can find it here. Just copy the code into your own website, and your images will not be able to be pinned onto Pinterest. Easy. However, this does NOT stop other ways of stealing your images.
- Police it yourself. You can use Google Alert or similar to search for particular words or phrases, and spend time removing offending images/text. You can also do random checks yourself, by copying and pasting chunks of text into any search engine. Google Image Search is another great search tool I have used on more than one occasion when I’m trying to track the source of something down. This option does take a lot of time, and you are likely to miss things.
- Legal. There are laws in place of course, including the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. To pursue this avenue is a possibility, but most often it is time consuming and perhaps expensive (if you choose to use a lawyer), and would be an absolute last resort for most folk.
- Educate the public. In small ways or large – through formal channels, such as educational institutions, or just by commenting on someone’s misappropriated image or text, you can gradually change people’s attitudes. It’s the scale of the problem that is the real problem, so fight scale with scale – the more healthy discussion we have, the more vocal we are as artists/makers/designers/writes, the more the broader public becomes aware of what’s at stake. Link with Love and Design Respect are two great initiatives doing just that – use them and help spread the word.
If you find stolen material
- Take a screen shot and save it as a PDF or similar, to use as evidence.
- Ask them politely to remove it!! If you get cranky and demanding first up, they are more likely to get nasty in return, and then nobody gets anywhere.
- Before you shout about it in public, read this excellent article by Australian IP lawyer, Sharon Givoni. THINK BEFORE YOU TYPE, or you may just lose out.
- Get legal support. You need to weigh up whether this is for you. It’s excellent for definitive advice, but is often costly and time consuming, and the result still might not end up in your favour. Would you be better off cutting your losses and simply move on to your next scathingly brilliant idea?
Again, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject! Provocative ideas promote discussions, and discussions provide the seeds of solutions.
Cheers, J x
(if you want read the first part of this discussion, Sharing images on the internet – it’s easy, but is it good?, you’ll find it here.)
Kellie of 74LimeLane pointed me to this article about a new system for protecting your images online. It’s called ImgEmbed, and it has just been launched at SXSW. Free to creators, it not only tracks your image’s use across the internet, but can also automatically insert your watermark whenever the image is downloaded. The end user can remove that watermark if they pay for the privilege, and creators are subsequently paid for that usage. You can find out more information from the article on DesignTaxi, and please read the comments on that article too – they will help put things in perspective of what it can and can’t do.
cheers, Julie x
mondongo collective (work for comme des garcons, 2008)
The other day I saw this snippet of conversation on Twitter, from Brett of @IAMTHELAB to Jessica of @designseeds.
“Good news is that I have a print that everyone likes on Pinterest. Bad news? Here: is.gd/sSKWAq“
The post refers to a nice piece of graphic work that Brett did for his New Additions series. The graphic had been receiving large slabs of Pinterest love, but despite all the pinning, it had not resulted in a single sale of that work in his Society6 shop. (You can view and purchase the poster here.)
More discussion followed, and points were made about how some people get a huge boost in sales because of pins, while others get completely ripped off and get nothing.
(Just let me add in here, that even before the internet, there have always been lots of ‘lookers’ and way fewer ‘buyers’. As a practising artist, I’m sure I’m not alone in that experience.)
So what made this difference in artists’ fortunes? The conclusion seemed to be that for artists whose work consists of 2D images – especially photographers, graphic designers, surface designers and illustrators – Pinterest was bittersweet, with few rewards other than notoriety.
However, for artists of 3D works – especially craftspeople, including jewellers, ceramicists, 3D textile artists, etc – it had resulted in a boost of traffic to their shops, and a subsequent boost to sales. It is important to remember though, that for this to happen, it is essential that the artists/makers/designers have fabulous photos (even if the work itself is average).
After all, Pinterest is all about images. No more, no less.
I love my Pinterest! I love sharing the beautiful things that I find (I’m here). However, it makes me sad when I see something especially noteworthy, and I can’t find the source. Case in point – the work from Mondongo Collective (above) was only linked to an anonymous Tumblr image URL – I had to go through Google Image Search to find it (made even more difficult by the fact that Mondongo don’t actually have a website of their own. In case you’re wondering, they are an Argentinian collective of 3 artists working in various mediums, but especially plasticine and thread). It took me a good half hour to track down who and what, but I’ve now credited it on my Pinterest pin, with a link to the source. I feel I’ve done a good thing. I know full well that not everybody does this – the overwhelming majority of people just pin images that are pretty or interesting, with no thought for where they’ve come from.
The ability to change the URL on a pin is both good and bad – it means good-minded folk can credit images correctly, but it also means that images can be hijacked – as has happened to me. This photograph of mine had been pinned from my website by the publisher of the book and then they re-linked it to their website. When I discovered this (quite by accident), and contacted them, it still took a bit of to-ing & fro-ing to get a correction and an apology out of them, but they eventually sent me a free book too. So I guess they saved their reputation.
But hey, this is not just about the pitfalls of Pinterest.
Images get shared many other ways too. It’s as easy as right-clicking and pressing ‘copy’.
Even images that have some kind of anti-copy protection on them can still be copied – if you can see it, you can copy it. Those things only keep the honest people honest, as they say. And the worst part about copying things this way is that they don’t come with ANY source information or URL.
But of course we want to share! That’s why we do it. Humans are irresistibly drawn to discovery and spectacle – we love things that have ‘wow’, and we love telling our friends to ‘hey, look at this!’ The internet makes it all too easy.
Copying the image is not the same as copying the object, but sharing the image certainly facilitates the process. It saddens me when I see a lovingly crafted piece of work that someone else has pinned to a board labelled “DIY”.
Despite the predominance of 2D works in the rip-off stakes, 3D works are not immune. I personally know of several instances where this has happened – surface designs have been copied and reproduced on cushions and t-shirts; jewellery designs have been copied exactly and reproduced as jewellery in another medium.
It’s not a new thing to copy someone’s work, there have been instances of it about ever since people decided you could make money out of art (I’m thinking Rembrandt et al here). And depending on your work and what’s been copied, you might wish to pursue legal advice.
But about those copiers! If you’ve refined your own product over years of work; if you’ve come up with your own genuine voice, they’ll never do it quite like you. Your pride in quality, the details you pay attention to will not be copied. So here’s the thing:
Get your work out there, it’s great exposure. The more people that see it, the more likely you are to find your customer.
If you’re a photographer or illustrator I realise it’s a whole lot harder – and often your images look best larger rather than smaller, so you are tempted to load up large versions to show them at their best, which means they may be more easily stolen or misused.
So much of our time is spent with screens, and it’s incredibly easy to copy and share images. However, there IS a difference between the physical product of the photograph/illustration on someone’s wall, and seeing it on a screen. The clarity of a print on high quality paper is very different to something printed out from a lo-res file on 70gsm A4 via the desktop printer. Knowing your print came directly from the artist – a real person – adds another un-reproducible dimension. It’s a tough thing to try and get this into people’s heads, but I truly believe it can and will settle into its own balance.
And, if there was more respect in the world, many of the issues surrounding copying and copyright would not exist. However, while respect for other people’s work is important, it’s not the complete answer.
Cultures always have these sorts of dilemmas whenever a new technology comes along – wasn’t photography supposed to mean the death of painting? Yet painting is still alive and well – it is valued for its own material qualities, and for the fact that it is capable of depicting things in ways not available to photography. Likewise, computer generated art has given us great new possibilities in depicting ideas, and it also has its own qualities and shortcomings – capable of and suitable for many things, but not suitable for everything.
Copying is not ever going to go away. We must face up to that fact and its implications.
I’m not suggesting that direct copying for the sake of profiting out of someone else’s idea is a good thing. But, it might not be all bad. In the The Knockoff Economy published late last year, law professors Raustiala and Sprigman argue that copying does not kill creativity, but in fact encourages creativity and innovation. The book cites the industries of fashion, food, and yes, font design as areas where copying is commonplace, and yet they remain vibrant and innovative. Their reasoning is that imitation simply makes the cycle run faster, forcing innovators to be even more creative.
So, if there has been a paradigm shift it means that intellectual property in an age of digital technology is a concept with shaky foundations – perhaps a corresponding shift in thinking is required. Artists need to come up with new ways to harness this proliferation of images and not fight it. We need to think smarter, faster.
iamthelab – creative mind @ work
(And seriously, you NEED this print to stick on the door/wall/window of your creative space.)
I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject! Provocative ideas promote discussions, and discussions provide the seeds of solutions.
Part (ii) of this post is here. What do you do when someone copies your work? Read on!
yumiko higuchi – william morris bird embroidery
I’ll admit it: sometimes, I’m a snob.
What prompted this thought? The other day, someone creative referred to another creative person as “extremely talented”, so I checked out their work, of course. I’m always on the hunt for fabulous new art/craft/design, right? I was disappointed. The new work was nice, it was pleasant, it was well-made, and someone will buy it. But really, it wasn’t special. It wasn’t that ‘grab-you-by-the-throat’ goodness that makes you swoon a little.
My immediate reaction was, I’m sick to death of people saying things are amazing when they’re not really. By all means say they’re lovely, say they’re cute, say they’re beautiful, but not ‘a-MAZ-ing’. I pondered my reaction for a while. Why are we using these words?
Are we devaluing skill and artistry in this renaissance age of handcrafted?
It’s a wonderful time for all of us who appreciate handmade. For makers, it’s so easy to make things – there are a plethora of DIY, How-Tos and You-Tubes on just about anything you care to mention, and technology has given us easy access and tools. But this has led to a rash output of stuff that, quite frankly, is not that good.
So my NEXT thought was, have we lost our understanding of quality?
Part of the problem comes from folk who DON’T try. Because they don’t do, they don’t understand that ALL of us are able to produce beautiful things, if we just try a little harder. I’ll say it again – we are all capable of making things and creating beauty. So when those who don’t make stuff see someone who does something, they call them ‘talented’. I wouldn’t. I would call them courageous, engaged, connected, but not especially talented.
It’s important to encourage each other, to build each other up, to congratulate each other on our achievements. But do we need to change our language? It’s a big grey area that should be teased apart a little.
For the folk that DO have a go, another part of the problem comes from results-driven DIY. So many instructions for doing and making out there! but a great deal of this information is about quick solutions and short cuts, with the focus on end results.
Where does that leave highly skilled craft?
There are truly skilled people out there, with years, sometimes decades of dedicated experience in their chosen field. (And it’s true, there are some exceptionally talented people who switch into these skills a whole lot quicker than most.) Utter familiarity with materials and their processes gives rise to both delicate nuance and to virtuosity in the maker’s work. Such skill and care is appreciated by other seasoned makers who recognise the hallmarks of years of practice. Peter Dormer, author of the seminal The Art of the Maker said
“a carefully made object carries with it the record of how much its maker valued the work.”
The work itself reveals all those years of trying, of experiments and failures. It’s the heart and soul of the maker on display.
Artistic vision is necessary, but not enough on its own – vision and expertise work best when they’re used together. Craft expertise gained through long years of practice allows the maker to fully explore an idea to get to the best solution; skill adds depth, meaning and substance to an object.
I don’t think I’m really being a snob. There IS a place for DIY, there is a place for using our skills to make handmade to sell and swap, instead of relying on lots of mass-produced goods. I want more people to make things! But I am also asking people to hone those skills. I am asking people to experiment, to fail, to learn, to reach higher. The more we use our skills, the better we get at doing stuff ourselves. The more we work at our skills and vision, the more we value just what it is that we are capable of. And, the more we value those that are truly gifted.
We need to re-connect with what we are capable of.
I want people to do. I want people to ASPIRE. I want people to put in the hard yards. There IS no shortcut, skill is a beautiful thing, and I want people to recognise it for what it is.
Do you agree that there is a great lot of poor quality work out there? Is the DIY movement a good thing? How do you think we can help lift people up and improve their skills?
When you look back at your own work from a few years ago, do you think that your ideas and skills have progressed? Have those years of practice changed the way you view things? Or do you look back at stuff you haven’t touched for years and know that your skills are way behind where they were then?
SO many questions, and I would love your thoughts! Feel free to leave links to your own work below, or to others whose work you admire.