This morning a person told me he was going to hang my print he purchased in his barn for his llama and goat to look at. Sounds like a wonderful place to hang my art and you’re probably thinking wow he must love his farm animals so much. I would think the same thing if I was reading this. However, I’ll never know if he is a loving animal care taker, because he wasn’t offering the art to his farm animals out of love, he was telling me this out of anger because I did not give his daughter permission to copy my paintings.
This is the 4th person this week that has emailed me asking to use my images. Each time my answer was no. So to help my professional life become more efficient I am channeling this explanation for you into one tidy little spot, here on my website, for those interested in understanding some of the reasons why. I have studied copyright law in school and I work with copyright and intellectual property lawyers to educate and protect myself. I know what my rights are and I understand the Federal Copyright Laws.
Please note ~ Most people who are denied permission upon asking me to copy my art are very courteous and kind to me. Some are even open to learning about copyright law and end up thanking me. So please don’t think people raging out on me behind their computer screen is common nor is that what these words are about. People, who are ignorant to the US copyright laws, that copy living visual artists without their permission has become somewhat of an epidemic amongst every professional artist I know. We spend a lot of time, emotional energy and money hiring lawyers to protect ourselves and cleaning up copy messes. It is exhausting. Seriously, some artist friends of mine teeter on the brink of emotional break downs as a result. The more success we attain, the more our art is seen, the more ewwwwyyy gewwwwwwooooeeyyyyyy sludge of copiers come out of the woodwork, in many forms.
There are many reasons why it is not okay and not legal to copy my paintings. And when I say copy I mean both, ripping off the digital image AND looking at my painting while you try to repaint it with your own hands (also known as an unauthorized derivative).
My business model is pretty basic, it's set up like most businesses: Even if you have purchased my art, this does not give you permission to copy my art. If you bought a book, that book company doesn’t automatically grant you permission to take another book OR to take that book home and plagiarize it. If you want another one, purchase another one.
One lawyer explained it to me this way ~ every time a person copies my art it is one less print that should have been purchased from me.
And if you think that copying is not damaging if the person doing it is young, you are wrong. Every person of every age is a special and a powerful source of life force. To create an illusion that a child isn’t powerful is insulting to that child and breeds low self esteem in their young impressionable hearts.
I have had many different situations of people stealing my paintings online in the last 10 years. I've had run of the mill scenarios like artists having entire art shows on art they painted while staring at my work trying to copy my paintings. I've had a company from China pull the digital image, reprint it on canvas and embellish it with more paint while reselling it in mass quantities all over the world. Years ago I had what you might think to be the most “mild” on the spectrum of stealing….. but as it turns out, according to one lawyer who I consulted on this, it is equally damaging as every other situation. Literally, this lawyer flipped her shit like a mamma grizzly when I asked her about it. (I LOVE this lawyer friend, she is awesome and it feels good to be educated and protected.) Here is the story ~ A 16 year old girl tagged me on Instagram. She posted a photo of a painting she was making that looked extremely similar to my llama painting. The 16 year old girl wrote on her post that she was using my llama painting to copy. (some people also like to use the word “inspired” rather than copied.. but don’t kid yourself it is still copying) It was 6 llamas just from the neck up all standing in a row with two of them touching cheeks, just like my painting. She even captured the face expressions. The 16 year old girl thought that it would be okay with me because 1.) she gave me credit, 2.) It was a gift for her grandma and 3.) she was only 16 years old so it was okay. Not okay! And not legal. None of those reasons make it okay with me to copy my art. And none of those reasons make it legal to copy my art.
1.) I do not need credit, I have credit and it wasn’t given to me from someone who has stolen from me. It is actually damaging to post your copying acts online as it gives others a bad example. It also uses my artwork to promote your work. Seriously not cool. 2.) If you want one of my llama paintings to gift to your grandma than purchase one of mine. 3.) 6 or 16 or 66 years old, do not copy living artists work without their permission, period. It is not your decision how my art is used, it is my decision.
There is always that one person who has to comment about copying being a compliment. All of my artist colleagues know about that one person who, like nails on a chalkboard, ignorantly comments on our Facebook feed on this subject... that being copied is a compliment. When we are trying to reach out to our fans, family, friends and buyers (and possible online thieves that are copying us) that this is not okay, do not tell us this is flattery. It is not. Admiring, respecting or buying our art is flattery, stealing it is not. It is damaging. The reasons copyright laws exist is because they are needed. Artists need protection just like any other business structure. The money that artists earn from their work is their livelihood. It is how they thrive as a human being. It is their health. It is so many things. Please do not compromise this by taking something that is not yours.
The most common reaction when people learn I am a full time artist usually runs along the lines of my career being an elusive unicorn. As if I must have some rare talent and I am just so lucky and I was just born destined to paint full time. It used to kind of bother me when I would hear that sort of feedback because of how much I have worked at it and how similar my job feels to any other business. The years that it has taken to cultivate my skills plus my commitment and determination plus all the mistakes I have learned from add up to where I am today. And that includes defending myself when needed. In addition to myself there are other companies that are thriving with me that are not only helping me succeed but also benefiting from my success. Just like any other company, my company works together with other teams and individuals to build mutually beneficial relationships. It is not just me I am protecting. This is many lives at stake and a lot of people are counting on me and our success together.
To sum it up, if you want to use art that is not yours, ask the owner first! Some artists don’t mind at all! And if you don’t get an answer back from them, the answer is no. If you want to know if you have permission to use my artwork, unless you are a licensing company that I have signed a contract with, the answer is no. Not only is that my personal decision, but my artwork is already reserved and licensed exclusively with my publishers and retailers. My images are also registered with the Federal Copyright Office.
If you have any further questions about the dangers of copying my art feel free to reach out to me, I am happy to recommend a Copyright Attorney for you to speak with. I have a few on speed dial. Oh and if you do ask an artist for permission to copy their art and the artist says no, don't be a dick.
To be continued.