This morning, Terry Culbert of Amherst Island, Ontario, wrote, “I’ve noticed that some artists insert text over their online images to avoid unwanted downloading. I dislike the business of marring our work in this way. Looking at mine, a photographer friend commented, ‘Great, I love stealable art.’ He was being facetious. What are your thoughts?”
Thanks, Terry. Those imprints are called “watermarks,” and while they give the copyright holder a feeling of security, they don’t deter Chinese clone shops from helping themselves. They don’t deter others, either, and it is photographers, particularly, who know all about it. Some pirates think we are living in the last days of copyright and they want to get to the New World. Using low-pixel images will certainly deter someone from making a direct giclee from your image, but no technology will stop somebody making a hand copy of anything you put out there.
Online stealing is on the rise. Last Friday’s twice-weekly letter was picked up word-for-word by a lady blogger on a well-respected group blog-site. The letter went online, under her own name, minutes after we put it up. Our subscribers tipped us off. With the cooperation of the blog-site, she was dumped in perpetuity. Her creative block got the best of her.
On the other hand, when people find the letters useful, we love folks to ask permission to copy or quote for their group, community or print publication. All we ask is a link back so people can directly subscribe if they wish.
In the sticky business of reference material, while it’s often difficult to find an author, a straightforward request often gets a “yes.” On the other hand, sometimes you don’t need permission. In a recent commission where I needed a Beaver airplane, I hit Google images and came up with 168,000 of them. I wrote to no one because my painting became an amalgam of many photos. Really, I just needed to know approximately where the windows and struts were.
When creative people begin to see that their own imagination is greater than all the world’s theft, true creativity breaks out. Maybe that’s being overly idealistic, but I’m sticking with it.
PS: “There are no cops on the Internet. Dishonesty, deceit and manipulation are the norm. It is a depressing example of unrestrained human nature in action.” (Paul de Marrais)
Esoterica: At the same time as the Internet is everything evil, it is the machine of our times. It is changing everything, including morality. “The nature of information has changed,” says (Greg Allen). “It is no longer constrained by privilege and apprenticeship.” This is why many of us think the bailiwick of handmade art needs to be carefully protected. Technology — use it, but be guarded. “Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.” (Stewart Brand)
Thievery with permission
by Joe L. Dolice, New York, NY, USA
Last year, I received a request from a man in Chagrin Falls, Ohio asking me if he could use an image of a painting done by Alton Tobey (1914-2005) for the background of a diorama he had been working on for the last three years. The original painting titled The Battle at the Alamo had been created in 1962/3 by Tobey. It was one of the 350 paintings he had created for a young people’s 12-volume series published as The Golden Books History of The United States. I talked with the late artist’s son and daughter about this and they had no objections. I checked with the book publisher that inherited the rights to the artwork. They didn’t have any objections either, since there was nothing being manufactured or republished that would be in any way for sale. I sent the diorama maker, Tom Munson, a hi-res photo of the painting. He just recently completed the diorama here.
Throughout history, controversies over an artist’s work being copied, forged or otherwise being mimicked has always resulted in greater attention to the work of the artists, if only in posterity, and posthumously. So perhaps artists should worry less about these borrowing activities and be more concerned about creating work that is truly great.
Who owns ideas?
by Vic Dohar, Ottawa, ON, Canada
This letter echoed a recent documentary aired on the CBC Radio 1 show Ideas about copyright and intellectual property. The program was called “Who Owns Ideas?” Although it mainly focused on literal text and music, I couldn’t help but wonder how it transcends into the visual arts world. It seems like we are at a fork in the road; we either have to practice protectionism or be free and open.
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by Fred Asbury, Memphis, TN, USA
I am a fine art photographer and have been dealing with this problem for years. Recently an IT guy suggested that I post my high resolution images online with Flash Media. He said that no one can right click and copy the image onto their computer. As a result, it would be impossible to copy or print out the image. This may be the solution. However, when I investigated the software, I found that the cost was around $600! This is totally prohibitive to me. I live in poverty thanks to the fact that I can not post on the information highway that everyone is using to sell their work. It’s a vicious cycle that leaves me on the outside! So, I must return to the old slow way of marketing; continue showing my work and hope a wealthy benefactor notices.
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Building positive relationships online
by Robin Baratta, Belmont, ON, Canada
I have discovered that when permission to use an image is asked for, it is seldom denied. Further more, some really wonderful relationships can develop from the contact. Case in point, I’m doing a series that required references of bees. I found OBKA on line and asked their permission to use photos from their members’ gallery. Not only did they say yes, but they are very excited about my project. We are negotiating the use of some of my series on their site. What a wonderful opportunity for both of us! I get to show my art to larger audience, and they get to show their much maligned creatures in a positive light.
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Foreign conceptions of thievery
by Rene Wojcik, Midland, TX, USA
Last fall, a woman from Romania wanted her entry fee back ($30) after her three paintings were rejected from our fall show. The three paintings were exact replicas of Caravaggio’s work. I saw her work and they all were beautifully done. I have to admit that they were far superior to anything in our show. Different cultures have different ideas about what is acceptable and what is not. Her non-refundable entry fee was foreign to her as well.
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Value in creation
by Ron Grauer, Ben Lomond, CA, USA
I believe that the majority of artists who protest about the internet theft of art are amateur artists who believe that all of their original art is of value and somehow they are being cheated out of something. The primary value of a piece of art is in the creation of the art itself. No one can steal that. As a matter of fact, if they can make money copying my work, more power to them. I have enough trouble trying to sell it myself. The money is never equal to the joy of creating.
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by Helen Musser, Terrell, TX, USA
If you have the soul of an artist, never compromise your intellectual integrity. It is dishonest and corrupts the soul of an artist. It will lead you down the path of least resistance. Before you know it, you will do anything to create a painting. This can include stealing, copying, etc. Depend on your self and if you hit a bad streak of creativity and nothing congeals; give yourself a rest and wait for inspiration. Do not compromise to incorporate other works into your work.
The good thief
by John DeCuir, La Crescenta, CA, USA
I am afraid I am a “marginal thief,” but your work is so fantastic — like candy in a candy store — there are moments I can’t resist. I only borrow a phrase now and then for my graduate students to mull over and those are private emails only to my class and I always credit the source. Let me know if I can continue with this blatant thievery for the good of young students who sometimes forget how much the painted image is a part of film making. At the current time I am developing a series of lectures called the seven pillars of film design: creative intuition, researching nature, form & composition, color & light, connectivity, modeling/perspective, and ornamentation.
(RG note) Thanks, John. This kind of blatant thievery is welcome. My game is sharing, and so is yours. Please go for it. I’m honoured.
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by Gregg Caudell
Copying is the greatest form of flattery, or so it is said. With regard to ‘new technology’ as the harbinger of all that is weak in human nature, I wonder if the Impressionists were as paranoid about the camera. It seems to me they embraced those things that emancipated the previous paradigm for a new paradigm brought on by technology and a new way of seeing. So now I will go out into our collective conscience, The Internet, find a quote, copy and paste it to share with you because my poor memory is incapable of holding all the intellectual garbage of 50 years of living. This is a quote from The Razor’s Edge (1943) by W. Somerset Maugham: “Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it. If change is of the essence of existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy.”
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Shows that claim ownership
by Sue Pieri
What do you think about art shows where they make you sign a legal agreement giving complete copyright ownership to them if you win a purchase award? The legal stuff goes on to say that they completely own it and will reproduce it and the artist gives up all rights to it, etc. I just stopped entering into those shows over the principle of it all.
(RG note) Thanks, Sue. There are enough fast operators out there these days to go for one more. You are right to give this show a pass. Those that want you to participate (often to their advantage) in a print deal should be looked at closely as well. Watch out for shows with lots of “purchase awards.” A good rule of thumb is not to participate in anything where the artist is required to pay as well as submit art.
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by Nansie Strobel
I am a pancake on that road of computer-induced art. I am a calligrapher, artist and custom picture framer (preservation). I totally understand the concept of woman against machine. The best work I have seen is by hand, those who pasted this life passed to me their customers and confidence to continue from their example. Without them, there was doubt of ability and a dry nib in my pen holder.
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You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Jayaraj Ramesh of Bangalore, India, who wrote, “If you copy from single book it is illegal. If copied from many books it is called research.”
And also Tedde Ready of Atascadero, CA, USA, who wrote, “I’ve always felt that trying to control stealing ideas, copying, or knock-offs is like spitting on a forest fire.”
And also Frank Gordon of Giggleswick, UK, who wrote, “The person who picked up and reproduced the twice-weekly letter under her own name could be described as female or as a woman, but definitely not as a lady!”
And also Metin Feridun of Switzerland who wrote, “Thanks. I didn’t realize that some of what I do with images from the Internet would be considered ‘stealing.’ ”
Enjoy the past comments below for The problem with stealing…