Last week, Marjorie Turnbull wrote to tell me that replicas of her paintings and mine were for sale on a Chinese website called Arch-World. Andrew and I went to have a look right away. It turned out to be a big site that ‘represented’ more than 2800 artists, living and dead. These folks have been simply ‘lifting’ images from dealer and public gallery websites, and other online pages. While the quality must be fairly poor, they are offering them as giclees or photocopies in several sizes. You can fill up your shopping cart for peanuts. Smaller sizes are 129 Yuan — 379 for larger. That’s about US$16 and $46. They also frame and ship. Quite a deal. I made a few phone calls and none of the artists I contacted were aware their work was on this website. So far no one has had any recollection of royalty cheques arriving from China. To find out if you are among the favoured artists see the List of Artists on Arch-World.cn. Andrew has posted the complete list, as well as further contact information for you. We are going to try to close this operation down.
A quick estimate suggests there are about 800 Canadian artists on the list. On Monday I contacted Robin Mader, our Canadian Trade Commissioner for Visual Arts. I offered her basic info, some physical printouts of the site, and the potential wrath of Canadian artists. She kindly offered to ask other government people to ‘recommend an appropriate course of action to halt this practice.’ So far nothing has happened.
Through our translator we studied a complex dissertation on ‘People’s Republic of China Copyright Law’ on the site. It’s difficult to understand but it seems they think they have the right to use our stuff until such time as we ask them not to. In the buying window, the links to “legal consultation” and “customer service” don’t seem to work for us. The website states that they cannot contact all the artists. It says that if you come across your own work and would like it to be removed, they will remove it within 24 hours and compensate you ‘reasonably according to the usage up to the time of removal.’ To this end they have an email address and a phone number which we have exercised in order to get my own 120 images removed. We did this on Wednesday afternoon and as of this writing (Thursday night) my stuff is still up there. In the meantime, artists, art dealers and public gallery curators need to follow the links below.
PS: “The superior man understands what is right.” (Confucius)
Esoterica: In 1886, French author Victor Hugo helped initiate the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. Prior to that, entrepreneurs in countries like England and France freely used each other’s authors and artists without compensation or recourse. The Convention now requires its signatories to protect the copyright on works from other signatory countries in the same way it protects the copyright of its own nationals. China signed on to the Berne Convention on October 15, 1992.
(Andrew Niculescu note) Thanks to everyone who wrote in to ask clarification about putting pictures on the web. In my opinion, artwork images on a website should be big, clear and readily available. A good example is the growing number of galleries that are powered by the Theo Digital Gallery System. Richard Thompson’s Theo optimizes the images on the websites in order to look as good as they possibly can on a computer screen. Below is a list of guidelines to a better web presence for artists:
— Learn to photograph your artwork well.
— Learn a few optimization tricks you can do using your favorite image editing suite (Adobe Photoshop, Corel Draw, etc.)
— Your artwork images CAN look as good as they would in print, all it takes is mastering the two points above.
— Exhibit the artwork online as if it is a gallery or museum wall. Give people the opportunity to view the images in as much detail as they would if they had walked up to the piece.
— Post large thumbnails and large enlargements.
— Encourage sharing. Make it easy for visitors to see your images and share them with friends.
— Don’t cut corners when photographing your work (i.e. glare, odd angles, etc.)
— Don’t display watermarks over your images. As much as it prevents some bad people from printing them, it puts off your visitors, distracts from the work, and prevents the vast majority who are good people from enjoying them.
— Don’t post poor quality or small size images on your web pages. It might be better not to have a web presence at all rather than do this. The labor put into the artwork will go unrecognized and the work unappreciated.
— Don’t use web tricks (scripts, flash, etc.) They distract from what you need to feature. Remember also that most lock-up tricks can be broken. So far none of these tricks have stopped me from getting an image from a website.
— Don’t accept the statement, “It can’t be done” from a webmaster.
Can of worms
by Brittani Faulkes, BC, Canada
You have opened a can of worms. I’ve had close to 100 emails from friends and acquaintances today to let me know I have 144 images on the Arch-World website. I have also perused your list of artist names and emailed dozens of friends to let them know they are also copied. I emailed the addresses to the Arch-World site and to our government representative that you mentioned. Hopefully this will be a snowball effect with thousands of indignant emails and action from the Canadian and other governments.
Email box starting to smoke
by Helen Zapata, Phoenix, AZ, USA
Thank you so much for giving us the heads up on this site and giving us the huge list of artists. I found several artists listed that I know. I even found a painting by Mickie Acierno that I personally own! I’ve known about these Chinese rip-offs for several years. But to actually see the list and see the work listed so blatantly — it’s nothing short of shocking. I’m forwarding like mad — the ol’ email box is starting to smoke!
Printout-proof images for the Web
by Traute Klein, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
I do not need to check to see if my name is on the list, because I protect my art from copyright violations. For almost two years now, I have been warning my artist friends not to put their art on the Web in full resolution or to allow galleries to do so. My own art on the Web is reduced to about 1/20 of the original scan or photograph. It looks perfectly fine on the Web, but if anyone tries to print it out, the print will look like a mosaic of colored pixels.
No one seems to be heeding my advice. It would have been a lot easier to protect yourself than to have to deal with thieves through legal channels. It only takes a couple of minutes to make a picture printout-proof in PhotoShop, and I consider that a worthwhile investment of my time.
Sculptor wins lawsuit
by Anij Indigo, Shreve, OH, USA
It seems the Chinese will pretty much rip-off anyone they can, but cannot always get away with it. I am a sculptor, and the biggest show in America for sculptors is held in Loveland, Colorado in August. Everyone is on the lookout for anyone, especially the Chinese, who tries to photograph pieces and then take them home to be poorly “duplicated.” Sculptor Walt Horton actually went after the Chinese for copying his work, and was reported to have won a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.
Ripped off quilters won
by Gail Ellspermann, Katonah, NY, USA
There were some quilters a few years ago who had the problem of their contemporary quilt designs being ripped off and mass produced into quilts in China, which then made it back to the US to be sold. They sued and won — they got monetary damages and stopped the production. Nancy Crow was one of them.
Entire website attacked
by Paul Constable, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
Here at Artists in Canada we feel your anguish and frustration with these Chinese practices. Our website has about 300 of the artists that are on your Chinese list — I am one of them. We are in the process of contacting all of these artists with the email addresses you attached and encourage them to be proactive. By the end of today we will be blocking countries that allow these practices to go unpunished. I will also contact a number of the other Artist’s Directories.
Even cheaper art here
by Cam Anderson and Peter Newell
As the hosts of MyArtClub.com where many of the artists stolen by this company are listed, we are deeply disheartened to see this marvelous technology so twisted in the hands of opportunists. I am thrilled to see your investigations and actions and we are advising all our artists about the actions to take about this. I wonder if the art on Arch-World is only printed reproductions, which would be very disappointing from a 100 KB jpeg. Another site offers wholesale hand painted images for about the same price levels you mention. On this site they list their “artists” who appear to be all Chinese, but I notice the images have detectably different, more European sounding signature names. Is that just the way they sign their work, or is there really an original artist being ripped off?(RG note) Thanks Cam and Peter. Yes, these guys are really inexpensive. Here’s a letter that arrived in my inbox just today:
We have your name and address from the Internet. We take this opportunity to write to you with a view to set up friend business relations with you. We are a company dealing specially with the export of oil paintings. Here are the prices for all the handmade oil paintings listed on our website www.doupine.com:20 x 24 inches on canvas US$4.95 for each24 x 36 inches on canvas US$7.95 for each36 x 48 inches on canvas US$14.95 for eachWe have more than 1711 images of oil paintings on this website. And all the paintings of 20″ x 24″ are in stock. Choose the pictures you like and let me know the quantity you need.
Doupine Team Buji, Shenzhen,China
Conversation just beginning
by Monica Dietrich, Herndon, VA, USA
We exhibited in the US at the Licensing Show in June 2005 at the Javits Center in New York and the Chinese were walking around shooting the exhibitor’s images on the walls with their movie cameras. There was no protection in sight, although cameras were supposedly prohibited. We didn’t even get a chance to get our images sold to manufacturers and they were being stolen! Recent reading about the Chinese diligently protecting their Logo for the upcoming Olympics in their country also revealed that they are pursuing only, at the most, 10% of the copyright infringements/violations — and you can bet its not Sally Smith, Canadian artist. It’s more like Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein.Think about what they are stealing to put our little art affairs in perspective. In a New York Times magazine article earlier in the year the authors spoke about the Germans and Japanese creating a “sample” mag-lev train to carry passengers between Chinese cities (this cost mega millions). Of course the Germans and Japanese were bidding on this business. After it was built, the Chinese reverse-engineered the train and told the German and Japanese companies to take a hike! These are companies with huge law firms to fight for them.Pharmaceutical companies are having their drugs reverse engineered by the Chinese and they then do not benefit from the years of work and research monetary commitment to develop their formulas. These are companies with huge law firms to fight for them. Movie companies don’t know if they want to spend $100 million on making new films because the counterfeit DVDs are out the same day. They can’t get a return on their investment. Music is pilfered even here in the US on a huge scale. And then, in this food chain, we come to little artists trying to make a living on their creations. We do not have big law firms defending us. We have a weak-kneed copyright coalition — and only the lawyers get rich. This is not going to stop or go away. The paradigm is shifting. To be provocative, it may be the end of copyright as we have grown to know it. The conversation is just beginning.
(RG note) In Tabaret, the magazine of the University of Ottawa, there’s a feature article, Canada’s Copyright Clash by Michael Geist. He’s the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce law at the University of Ottawa. You can contact him by visiting MichaelGeist.ca Also Maggie Parker of the UK recommended an excellent article by Ernest Adams, The End of Copyright.
Genius of China
by Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Moscow, Russia
The case with China is not only use of other people’s copyrights. They live in another world. Thank to China Russia was rescued in the times of Yeltsinistic suppressing of Russian industry — to present day all Russia is using China PC technology — this letter also is written on a Chinese PC. Thank to China I have in use cheap 3,3 Mpix digital camera. China people are geniuses accordingly to economizing expenses (for example, we are waiting in 2006 for energy-saving luminiscent tube-E27-cap lamps for only $1/pcs with 20(100) Watts). Inside of China is much doing for all of society’s interests, we feel it in Russia too. That is “soviet” commonship — common ownership. Common — community. In Soviet times — I personally did much for all society for free — that was time with interesting poem of Soviet poet Wladimir Mayakovskiy: I am in joy. My labour is pouring into all the labour of my republic. Painter’s Keys is pouring into all the world and rescuing the business of art to change it to better.
Cultural differences prevail
by Elizabeth Vancoughnett, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Your letter brought back memories of my two years in China. I taught English there. I remember seeing a kiosk on the street piled with CDs and heard that they were all copied. Upon entering the university library, I was sad to see the contrast to libraries that I had been using all my life in Canada. Row upon Row, green cover upon green cover, copy upon copy; there were lots of books like Reader’s Digest, texts and many other books copied for the students. I had introduced the subject of environmental awareness and asked the students to research and write an essay for their term paper. Most had never heard of such a topic. They learned a lot. One wrote about the tiger, gradually disappearing in China. One woman engineer researched and discovered the dearth of the local waste disposal system. One can be left with such mixed feelings because at first you feel so sorry about their conditions; my students were writing exams with the snow blowing in broken windows while there was no heat allowed in any buildings south of the Yangtze. Everyone wore winter coats indoors and I wore two layers of ski underwear under the outer layers. They did have hardships that we are not used to while studying.However, the greatest surprise was when we teachers discovered that no one knew what the word plagiarism meant. They often wanted to help each other. That was just in the university community. The business marketplace is another thing and many things are copied. It is not unusual to expect an art student to copy masters in their training. An artist friend invited me to study at his art academy, then suggested that I could copy The Long March for a start. There are many cultural differences. Not only that, but then it is common practice to expect the ‘foreigners’ or waigoren to pay twice as much for everything. We poor teachers traveled seventeen hours on the train because we could not afford to pay twice as much as the Chinese person to go by air.
‘Honourable gentleman crooked’
by Lorna Dockstader, Calgary, AB, Canada
I received many phone calls and emails regarding this site. Thanks. I did find something amusing in all of this. If you click on translate this page beside your image listing you will see some interesting translations of your painting titles. My piece entitled Leaving Jasper translated to Leaving the Outstanding Gentleman Uncle (wish I’d met him). One of your titles became Small Woods and Angry Fire, another The Smog Winds Around Summit and the best was Pessimistic Marvelous Sight –!
Stop supporting China
by Clair Raabe, Berkshire, MA, USA
I make it a life style to not purchase anything made in China. My children at a young age first learn to read “made in China” and that meant we could not buy whatever toy they had their heart set on. I had to explain that these toys were made by people who were not paid properly and we could not support this. Please, we can’t seem to have our votes count — so where can we make our voices heard? — the pocket book. Everyone should understand that we vote best with how we spend our hard-earned money. Does anyone remember the days when we were encouraged to not buy anything made in Japan? — they hunted whales. Well, I think it’s time to tell Wal-Mart, K-mart and the like, no thanks, we want American made products and if it costs a buck to get what we want, so be it, our products are better — but they are disappearing. If we all refuse to purchase products made in China we have a chance. I have a relative in Washington, DC. He is beating his head against a wall trying to stop the Chinese from stealing our creativity. He is one of the best lawyers in the country. He tells me all his efforts are useless. The Chinese are going to do whatever they want, and give our government lip service. Our only hope — stop supporting Chinese rip-offs and Chinese products.
It’s pretty amazing how quickly these things can be resolved once an embargo to that country is ratified, if a relationship and accusations of illegal action have been expressed. Especially if there is proof that it is that specific country that is in question, and under no other circumstances illegal behavior is being condoned, and you have proof. Then action must occur. If not, you can always talk to an international newspaper, (the BBC, CNN, etc). Tell them your story and have them help you stop this illegal international swindle. Another good place for artists to tell their story would be 60 Minutes.
(RG note) While China is taking its place as a responsible exporter and trade partner with the rest of the globe, there are still some in that country who would be pirates. Many artists indicated that the only way we can retaliate is to think twice about buying Chinese bicycles, barbecues, binoculars and baseball bats. The Chinese people must be made aware that it is for the general good of all their citizens that they play the game by world-class rules. China needs to become a trusted trader. Many Chinese nationals appear to be forthcoming, and this is encouraging. As a thought, those who are protesting directly to the Arch-World site, or trying to get their work removed from it, might do well by copying and pasting the following material from the Chinese site.
Our translated interpretation of the above:
“Because we draw on artists from a wide area, and in large quantity, it is difficult to get each individual artist’s permission. Therefore every time this company reprints an artist’s work but has not been able to set up a relationship with the artist, we ask that the artist contacts our company quickly in order that we can pay the artist. On the other hand, if you do not want your work disseminated in this way, inform us quickly and we will remove your work within 24 hours and we will pay you fair compensation based on your time with us.”For those artists who are trying to get their work removed from Arch-World, please let us know at our regular address email@example.com in the event you are successful. At this writing we have been notified or copied by nearly 1100 artists that are trying to get off, but as yet we have had no one reporting success. We will update this info as it becomes available on the “International theft” box on this and other Painter’s Keys pages. Thank you to all for your continued support and media activity in this matter.
Cleanin’ the Frog
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.
That includes Katherine Harris of Rome, Italy who wrote, “Guess I’m not famous enough to be on the Chinese list! Meno male, as we say here in Italy!”
And also Roger Cummiskey, Ireland who wrote, “It is with great sadness that I did not see my name on the list of runners and riders on the Chinese web site.”
And also Olaf Kiewiet of the Netherlands who wrote, “In Greece on a recent vacation I found thousands of very cheap hand-painted imitations that were dumped on that market from China.”
And also Anita Klein of Canada who wrote, “From the images of mine that they have up on the Arch-World site, I am guessing they have had them for well over a year, maybe two. I have also emailed all 4 addresses with my complaint and stop and desist. I was not polite, I called them art thieves.”