It's been a little while since a Just Ask post, so I'm making up with it now with many questions thanks to talented typographer Jasmine Dowling. If you don't know about my Just Ask posts already you can basically ask anything you like by clicking this box up to the right of my blog and I will create a dedicated blog post to answer your question.
Recently Jasmine has had some unfortunate luck with companies stealing her work and using it without permission. In a bid to raise awareness and educate creatives she has launched a new subject on her blog called "The C Word" where she discusses all things copyright, you can see her introductory post here. As someone who has had this happen to me many times I was glad to share my thoughts for Jasmines' most recent post and think she is doing such a great thing encouraging conversation in the creative community. You should definitely follow her for future updates!
As it is such an important and infuriating issue I also thought I would share my answers with you here.
J. What do you do for love?
Me. It can be a love hate relationship sometimes! I am an illustrator and art director and a founder of UNA Studio www.weareuna.com I also really love pilates
J. Has your work ever been used without your knowledge?
Me. So many times! Probably more times than I know about unfortunately.
J. What is your initial reaction?
Me. I usually find out about it through my followers who send me links and I feel really sick when it happens. My stomach drops instantly and then I get all frantic trying to find the images and see if my work has been used anywhere else, or if the offender has used it a few times. These days I feel so heavy when it happens because it has happened so many times, I get so exhausted and upset, I usually swear a lot and think “again!!”
J. After excusing your french, do you have a plan of attack for these situations?
Me. The first thing I do is take photos or screen grabs of everything incase they take it offline the second I contact them. If a supporter has seen an item in a shop overseas I often offer them a print or something to go back and take a photo for me. I then email the offender directly with the screen grabs or photos included, along with a picture of my original work and a link to my site so they can see that it is mine. I first ask for them to stop selling the product immediately, and then I ask them for more information about where it is being sold, how many items were printed/made so that I can figure out what I want to do next. Usually they don’t reply. I then email again more forcefully with a date that I need to hear back from them by and advise that my lawyer will be in contact after that date, or I will share it on my social media (which they hate!). From there I either discuss directly and seek compensation based on the usage, bring in my lawyer, or bomb the crap out of them on social media with the help of my fantastic and very loyal fans who are always the best at helping! I try to sort things myself to avoid legal fees, but unfortunately particularly with international thieves I can’t do it by myself.
J. Do you always get lawyers involved or only in certain cases?
Me. 70% of the time I have to because brands ignore me, don’t take it seriously or treat me like crap.
J. If the situation resulted in you needing a lawyer, but weren’t able to secure one due to the costs involved, what would you do?
Me. Cry! Once after sharing a particular case on Facebook I was lucky to have a few lawyers come forward to help me, one was nice enough to help in exchange for some prints, he was a saviour. Now I have copies of documents from previous cases and use those, but if someone doesn’t reply and you don’t have a spare $2k (just for an initial lawyer letter), then there isn’t much else you can do other than publicly shame and hope for the best.
J. Do you feel closure once a case is settled?
Me. Yes, usually because it takes so much time I am just happy it’s over, but I still feel disappointed as the chances are it will happen again soon
J. Have you ever spoken publicly about any of the cases?
Me. Yes I always talk about it on social media if I don’t get replies when I contact companies directly. I don’t particularly enjoy this, but no brand wants bad attention and it can be a good way to hurry them up. I also think it is a good way to educate my followers and encourage them to think about who they are buying from. When it comes to fast fashion brands in particular when someone is buying a $20 print skirt they don’t necessarily consider that it could be someone like me who drew that print and is now having it used without permission. Sharing personal experiences like this helps people think about who they are shopping from and the damage that is being done to people like me as a result. Last time one of my fans wrote a Reddit post about a company who stole from me and it went viral, I had reporters calling me and it ended up as a feature in the Sydney Herald and the Daily Mail in the UK, it was crazy, but at the same time I felt a bit overwhelmed by it.
J. If so, does that make you feel any better or have you had any repercussions from doing so? (Has it caused issues when trying to settle later on)
Me. It has never caused any issues later on, mainly because I was always in the right, what could they say in argument? Overall I think it is good, but I do feel a bit awkward about being in the spotlight for things like that, I don’t want to be a moaner, but these people need to be stood up to.
J. Has there been cases where going after it just hasn’t been worth it in the end?
Me. Yes. The case I linked to above was never sorted out entirely. I found the products distributed throughout so many online stores, obviously someone had printed fabric and sold it to many wholesalers and it was used by brands all over the place. I managed to have the product removed from lots of sites, in some instances the suppliers lost their partnerships with the sites, but because the wholesaler was in Hong Kong I needed a lawyer there to get to the source, and I couldn’t afford it. I still see it popping up, still feel sick about it, wish I was a rich girl so I could take them down.
J. There have been cases that involve overseas parties that I don’t even invest my time and energy in because I think it is more effort than it’s worth..
Are there any cases you don’t touch with a ten foot pole?
Me. I always make some contact, I’ve received a good amount of money from some overseas companies, but it is tricky with places such as Asia as they often just ignore you.
J. Do you find the more it happens the easier it gets?
Me. No the more draining it gets! I guess it is easier to some extent because you’re more pissed off and direct and used to dealing with it and you have the processes and emails in place...but it always sucks.
J. Why do you think this is such a huge issue today? Is it consumer lead, the internet and sharing of work online, the law or the lack of education for young designers etc..
Me. I think it's a combination of things. The first is that consumers keep supporting fast fashion, and buying cheap product without thinking about how things can be so cheap, someones losing out somewhere in the supply chain. Education is definitely an issue, a few times I have had my work used on T.shirts and it was blamed on the junior designer who found it on the internet and didn't know all the rules about copyright. I also think that thanks to social media sharing and people not crediting images people just think that if it's out there they can take it, people are not connected with the makers so it just becomes nameless art.
I also think that some companies don't place enough value on the art, they don't consider that good art gets attention, people will want to buy it, it's worth the spend because it will be tailored to your needs and ultimately be a more successful product, bringing in revenue. They don't put enough thought it to it, just snatch something in a hurry and probably end up spending much more in legal fees once they get caught out!
Unfortunately I also think that some people just don't give a shit when it comes to these things. I was recently in a situation where a well known event that I have spoken at numerous times somehow ended up printing over 2000 posters of one of my images that was part of one of my limited edition prints of ten. They had the file because I had worked for them before and somehow it ended up everywhere. I saw it on social media, asked them what was going on and while one of the owners was apologetic and quick to try and find a solution the other owner refused to compensate me, made comments about me "biting the hand that fed me" and didn't give a shit. I was so upset and just felt like our whole relationship was nothing. This from a guy who directs an event about creative industry....
J. Do you think there is anything we could do as creatives to help this issue?
Me. Credit artists when you share things, and if you’re not sure who made it, ask for people to comment if they know. Loading images to Google Images is also a helpful way to try and track down the source. Don’t buy crap cheap products. merch or fashion, if the artwork isn’t stolen then there is probably someone else being taken advantage of in the supply chain, so it’s best to avoid it entirely. Speaking out about it is good, if people aren’t in the creative industry it is possible that they genuinely don’t know about this issue, so things like this blog post and social sharing are always good for awareness. Educate your clients - include licensing and copyright information in your quoting and paperwork, and if they don’t understand take the time to fill them in.
J. Since dealing with this side of the business, do you do anything differently? Has it changed you or your business at all?
Me. I am very diligent with my paperwork and licensing when I deal with clients so I don’t randomly find they have used my artwork again 3 years later without permission. When I do interviews with online magazines or blogs, I specifically point out that the images are only to be used for that. I always give credit or do my best to find credit for artists if I share someone else’s work. I’m also much more upfront and decisive when dealing with people who have breached my copyright, no mucking around anymore.
J. Lastly, I’d love your opinion on the phrase ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’
Me. I think it just means you haven’t found your own way, are lacking creativity or are not confident in your own ability. If you’re a high school student or early university student I understand it, but if you’re copying somebody else’s work you have to remember you’re only ever going to be compared to the original, and why would a client choose you when they can have the original? Be inspired yes, but find your own way it is 100% more satisfying and rewarding.