courting controversy

Photo by Philip Marsh on Unsplash

Dear Artists,

I'm going to say something here that might get your dander in a tizzy.  (Beyond this mixed-metaphor, which will probably make my grammar friends' heads explode already.)  Understand, I mean this with love.

Most people are not trying to steal your stuff.

Intellectual property theft happens online.  It does.  I'm not denying that there are at least two common kinds of people out to hork all your work and claim it as their own.

The first kind is technological.  Mostly Chinese/Russian/African folks who literally don't care about you.  It's not personal.  They use technology like scrapers which are just like they sound -- bits of code that go out and literally scrape across your websites and accounts, taking your content and republishing it.  They do it because your content is easier to steal than it is to create some of their own, and they publish it not because they're trying to literally steal your work itself, they're trying to steal your pageviews and your google street cred.  They don't care what you've made.  You could be making giant penises made out of popsicle sticks that look like a particularly perverted twelve-year-old's art project.

They just need something that people search for, so they can get people to look at their purloined pages, because they've got ads on it.  Thus, they make a few cents off it.  And since they do this to literally hundreds of thousands of sites a day, that few cents adds up.

Again, it's not personal.  They don't care if it's art or recipes or blog rambling.

You'll see a similar thing with published books.  There are certain little bits of code they can put in their headers (the backside of the web pages) that fools Google by repeating back whatever you searched for, making it look like your book's on their free Napster-style pages.  They don't, most of the time.  It's just there to fool people into signing up for the service they're hawking, which, most of the time, steals your credit card info and gives it to the crooks.  It's not personal; they don't really have your book.  (Though, I will almost guarantee that it's out there somewhere for free, because that's how people are.)

The second kind will piss you off, and for good reason.  

These are the ones who not only scrape your images, but then put those images on their own sites or their own products, without compensating you, or claiming those images are their own.

These people deserve a kick in the balls.  And before you think that it's just hacky Russian sites doing this, there have been numerous incidents with certain huge retailers (Urban Outfitters, I'm looking at you...) stealing designs off artists' websites and etsy shops and mass producing crappy knockoffs that don't even bother, sometimes, to remove the original artist's signature from the design.

Those people also exist.  And if that ever happens to you, by all means, lawyer up and call down an internet firestorm that will flambe' them from the eyeballs down, because that stuff sucks when it happens.

Those are not what I'm talking about, though.

Those (and variations of those) are relatively rare.  You could go a whole lifetime without either of those affecting you.

But some people don't seem to have received the memo that the vast majority of people are not out to steal from you.

I've seen so many people in a froth because OMG I draw eyes with six eyelashes and now this other person has a painting with an eye with six eyelashes and SHE IS SO STEALING FROM ME GET THEM, INTERNETS.  Or I take a class, and I can barely read the handouts because the PDFs are completely covered with watermarks and copyright notices (and in one notable case, a whole page notice that if you share this info with anyone, ever, they will sue you so hard that your children will be paying for this egregious error in judgement). 

Excessive much?

Or people who go on inSANE rants about Pinterest "stealing" from them.  Seriously.

Folks, my friends, my compatriots, again...I say this with love:

Lighten the eff up.

Have a nice cup of tea and a little walk.  Take a few deep breaths.  Try to get a little perspective, because clearly, some of y'all don't have enough of it currently.

And once you've managed to calm down and realize that said person probably either a) doesn't realize she's stepped on your toes, or, b) isn't one of those two types I mentioned at the beginning, or c) is not some catburglar with a cable modem tenting her fingers and tee-hee-heeing and how she got away with buying your class/work/publication just so she could put your work out there for free....THEN talk to the person.

To the person.

Not to your facebook friends' list (for example).  Not to your mailing list or your fan pages or your Instagram horde.  If you are asking them to go after someone for a perceived slight, you're being a jerk, and in some cases, a paranoid jerk.

(Now, if someone really does take your images and make a whole Society 6 page selling your work, that's another story.  Send S6 a takedown request and then rampage away, because there's no way that's innocent.  Same if you see your work on UO's new arrivals page.  Lawyer up.  Or if someone takes your class and tries to offer their own class using your handouts.  Call foul, then.  You're justified.)

Otherwise, stop assuming that everything is about you.

No, really.  

If someone makes something similar to yours, there is a very real possibility that it was independent creation, or that you were inspired by the same things.  There are trends in art just like there are trends in everything else.  (Back in 1999, we were all making vintage-looking collageythings.  None of us were copying each other, but things tended to look similar, because they were on-trend.  Recently, it's been big-eyed female faces with poochy little lips.  I can, off the top of my head, name about seven prominently-known artists who make faces that would probably be virtually indistinguishable to those not in the proverbial know.  I doubt any of them copy each other directly...but if I was paranoid, it could look that way.)

Acting like everyone's out to steal your stuff makes you look paranoid.  Because, let's be frank here,  you are at that point, being paranoid.  It's a turn off, as a buyer.  (That notable exception with the full page WE WILL SUE YOU notice class that I mentioned earlier?  I haven't bought anything else from them, because it's insulting that this person just assumes that I'm part of some kind of steal-your-sh*t army that's just lying in wait to steal that class.  And the class wasn't the best one I've ever taken, either, just for the record.  Not that lower quality equates to being worthy of theft, but seriously...the ego it takes to just assume your stuff is so good that people won't be able to help themselves from sharing is totally off the charts.)

And before I go too much further, let me just mention this about sharing.

If someone does like your stuff enough to pin it or link to you in a blog post or to show her friends your class and say You should totally take this, I bet you'd love it, that's A GOOD THING.

It means you're making stuff that resonates.  That people want to share, or to save for later, or to remember.  As independent artists, that interest is gold.  You should be emailing them and inviting them to your mailing list, or saying hey, thanks for liking my stuff, did you see I have an etsy shop?, not ranting in a blog post about how much people suck for "stealing" your stuff for a pinterest board of stuff they want to buy.

(Yes, I realize the irony of mentioning ranting in a blog rant like this one.  Hush.)

You are shooting yourself in the foot, y'all.

All that time you're spending fretting about your "stolen" property (especially when it either hasn't happened yet or isn't happening at all) is time you are stealing from yourself.  THAT's the theft that's happening.

You're stealing the time you could be using to make more of your incredible work, or writing classes that will change people's lives and how they work, or putting your stuff out there for people to see (and maybe buy).

I don't know about you, but I don't have time to waste, much less wasting it on something that isn't even happening.

(Again, there are lawyer-worthy exceptions, and it's okay to police your brand.  Natch.)

Lose the ego and make some work you're proud of, instead.

And celebrate every person who likes it.

Those are your people.


p.s.  Nobody has accused me of stealing, for the record.  Probably because my stuff tends to come out of my hands looking like I made it.  Even when I'm taking a class and TRYING ACTIVELY to copy a style for instructional/experimental purposes, it ends up looking like me.  It's kind of annoying, because I don't feel like I'm learning sometimes, as a result.  (I am, but that's not always obvious to me.)

This is inspired more by a few incidents I've witnessed over the past few years, as recently as last week, where someone whose ability I admire goes all ape-shit about copying, when, if the other work is viewed, there's only the most tenuous of connections/similarities.

In short, I'm just sayin'.

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