Jus­tice for artists now!

Copy cats Im­age fraud is go­ing on at un­prece­dented lev­els and just about ev­ery fan­tasy, sci-fi and comic artist is be­ing ripped off, dis­cov­ers Gar­rick Web­ster

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Anger. Frus­tra­tion. Dis­may. Even bore­dom. The unau­tho­rised use of im­agery is tak­ing an emo­tional toll on artists around the world, for sure. Ev­ery sin­gle day, artists like John Howe re­port on their Face­book page that their im­agery has been used with­out per­mis­sion.

Prints, cof­fee mugs, T-shirts, aprons, pen­cil cases… you name it, pinched art­work ap­pears in many forms on Etsy. Then there are those un­scrupu­lous deal­ers who’ll scan art­work in and sell it as their own to pub­lish­ers who should be buy­ing work from the orig­i­nal artist. And the prob­lem seems to be get­ting worse.

“To be hon­est, it makes me mad,” says Mike Lim, AKA Daarken, whose work was lifted from Spec­trum and used as a Game of Thrones cover by a Por­tuguese pub­lisher. “Stolen art can be a huge prob­lem for artists be­cause usu­ally the of­fend­ing party is sell­ing the stolen work for a frac­tion of the artist’s orig­i­nal rate. You can see how this could be­come a prob­lem when it comes to find­ing work.”

John Howe agrees. It’s not about pride, or orig­i­nal­ity. It’s about get­ting paid. “Il­lus­tra­tors’ in­comes, gen­er­ally, are based on sell­ing re­pro­duc­tions of their work, whether through pub­lish­ing of books, posters and so on, or sell­ing prints and such them­selves. Sell­ing a prod­uct with an unau­tho­rised im­age is an at­tack on the artist’s liveli­hood.”

John must hold some sort of record due to the fact that over a dozen dif­fer­ent Rus­sian death metal bands have re-used his im­age The Dark Tower, from his Lord of the Rings il­lus­tra­tions, for their al­bum cov­ers. And he’s got about as much chance

of see­ing any roy­al­ties from Rus­sia as he has from Mor­dor.

It’s Stephen King’s The Dark Tower that lies at the cen­tre of some of

Michael Whe­lan’s most pi­rated work. “I in­vented a sym­bol for The Dark Tower char­ac­ter The Crim­son King, and I see unau­tho­rised ex­am­ples of its use fre­quently on CafePress.com, Etsy. com, Ebay and else­where,” ex­plains Michael. “Each time I be­come aware of it I try to put a stop to it, but it’s like play­ing Whack-A-Mole – they keep pop­ping up again.

friends in high places

He’s dealt with the prob­lem in two ways. When in­fringe­ments oc­cur on Face­book, Michael’s web­mas­ter, Mike Jack­son, in­vokes the name of Stephen King. With a fol­low­ing of five mil­lion, the au­thor and his team have a lot more clout with Face­book’s le­gal de­part­ment and it’s banned dozens of fake fan pages that have used Michael’s dis­tinc­tive art.

Michael has also signed li­cens­ing agree­ments: one with Sony Pic­tures which will use the sym­bol in the up­com­ing The Dark Tower film, the other with a T-shirt out­fit called Katet 19. They will be the sole au­tho­rised pro­duc­ers of T-shirts fea­tur­ing Michael’s art­work. Both Sony Pic­tures and Katet 19 have the le­gal clout to pre­vent some of the pla­gia­rism.

Not ev­ery artist has ma­jor clients like th­ese to kick ass on their be­half, but just about ev­ery tal­ented artist out there is be­ing ripped off in one way or an­other. Tara Phillips is an Aus­tralian il­lus­tra­tor whose True De­tec­tive-in­spired per­sonal work was taken sim­ply so that some­body in the film in­dus­try could boost their un­re­lated In­sta­gram pro­file. Did they credit Tara? Hell no!

“I’m aware that most peo­ple don’t know any bet­ter when they post art on­line, so I gave this per­son the ben­e­fit of the doubt and sim­ply mes­saged ask­ing for credit,” she says. “Af­ter sev­eral ig­nored mes­sages from my­self and oth­ers, I had no choice but to file an of­fi­cial re­port to get it taken down. By this point, the post had reached over 12k likes, and had caused a ripple ef­fect of re­posts and un­in­ten­tional im­age fraud to fol­low.”

ac­tion against fraud

Mis-at­trib­uted im­ages can be spread like wild­fire on In­sta­gram, Twit­ter and Face­book, just as mis­ap­pro­pri­ated art­work can be sold on items on Etsy and eBay. To pro­tect them­selves against the claims of artists, most plat­forms use the Dig­i­tal Mil­len­nium Copy­right Act (DMCA) in the US.

The act ba­si­cally means that if web­sites have a process that artists can go through to have pla­gia­rised work re­moved, then the site is more or less im­mune from copy­right in­fringe­ment. It can be slow-mov­ing and cum­ber­some, but get­ting used to fill­ing in DMCA forms on sites like Etsy is the re­al­ity if you want to chal­lenge im­age fraud­sters. Even­tu­ally, maybe, the in­fringer will be banned.

Sony Pic­tures and Katet 19 have the le­gal clout to pre­vent some of the pla­gia­rism

Be hon­est with them, ex­plain how dam­ag­ing this be­hav­iour is

Water­marks – along with other mea­sures – work for some artists, but not for oth­ers. “I think many of the steps peo­ple take in com­bat­ing art theft are ac­tu­ally more detri­men­tal,” says Mike. “Some peo­ple use water­marks, but every­one hates look­ing at art with water­marks. Not to men­tion that it’s pretty easy to re­move them. Some peo­ple post re­ally tiny im­ages. Again, this is not some­thing the gen­eral pub­lic, or art di­rec­tors, want to look at.”

Many sea­soned artists will tell you to choose your bat­tles, and to keep a cool head when in­fringe­ment oc­curs. “Take it calmly,” says John. “There’s lit­tle point in get­ting up­set, it’s not ex­actly life-threat­en­ing! If the in­fringe­ment is on a plat­form such as Etsy, the tools are there to al­low you to file a com­plaint. If it’s an in­di­vid­ual’s site, then you can re­mind them that un­less they have an au­tho­ri­sa­tion, what they are do­ing is il­le­gal. Where it goes from there is up to you.”

One of the best things you can do is to turn to your com­mu­nity of fel­low artists and fans for help. “The only thing I have ever found that works at all is main­tain­ing a solid re­la­tion­ship with your fans,” says comic artist

Colleen Do­ran. “Be hon­est with them, ex­plain how dam­ag­ing this be­hav­iour is. It’s my fans who usu­ally find the stuff. Fans will leave bad re­views on items that are stolen, and they’ll spread the word. They’ll sup­port you.”

Mike Lim’s art­work (left) was used with­out per­mis­sion (above) by a Por­tuguese pub­lisher. John Howe’s im­agery of Mor­dor has turned up on Turk­ish gum wrap­pers (top) and on cover art for metal bands in Rus­sia (above).

Found out! A T-shirt seller’s ren­di­tion of Michael Whe­lan’s sym­bol, copied straight out of the Dark Tower book (be­low left).

Left: Michael Whe­lan’s il­lus­tra­tion in The Dark Tower: Gun­slinger. Above: a T-shirt for sale on­line us­ing Michael’s art­work with­out his per­mis­sion.

Above: Tara Phillips’ orig­i­nal im­age, The Tax­man, which was in­spired by the TV series True De­tec­tive. Insert: the un­cred­ited use of it on In­sta­gram.

Above: Colleen Do­ran’s il­lus­tra­tions for Manga Ma­nia: How to Draw Ja­panese Comics, by Chris Hart. Be­low: The im­agery is on cloth­ing avail­able to buy on­line.

Here’s a pa­per­back book from Ser­bia, which re­pro­duces some of John Howe’s art­work from The Lord of the Rings. John didn’t get pay­ment.

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