Copyright isn’t rocket science!

When copyright was created some three hundred years ago, it was a sound concept. The opportunity for steal creative works in those days was very localised, and so the law was pretty strong in defending the creative, who’s work was under threat. Today however, with trans-global travel and cyber communication that has all changed. The internet has basically created a wild-west lawless society. Even though laws exist to control and protect the internet, and its users, they are often ignored and abused. With a very common example being the creation of anonymity in a user account. Because of the data protection acts in countries, sites can’t reveal the identities of users who create accounts under pseudonyms. Therefore it is near impossible to locate and prosecute a violate of your works if they are not honest enough to use real information in their account set-ups.

When this comes to tracking copyright thieves online, it is even worse. Not only is there the joys of having anyone with a pseudonym identity able to take your work, but there are also scrapper bots that basically trawl the internet from countries like China, Ukraine and Russia, with the simple intention to use your data on fake sites as bait to temp people to give over their personal details so they can be exploited, whether through cyber-fraud or identity theft. This does particular harm to the creatives involved as people will become negative to an artist’s work if its associated too much to fraud sites.

A very big issue though is ignorance. People simply ignore or don’t understand the copyright laws. This is compounded by the fact that they re Not aware that the law exists, and where it is being implemented. It’s almost like having a “Keep off the Grass” law, but never placing the signs on the grass to warn people. Take this search, for example, I did on my own work.

There is nothing there that obviously states that any of those images are copyrighted. So to any casual user passing by these images, and are ignorant of the copyright laws, then these images all seem pretty fair game. It isn’t until you click on any of the images that the first sign of copyright laws is evident.

Even though my images have metadata encoded into the image header that states this image is copyrighted, neither Google identifies this nor do they actually state that the image is protected by copyright (which is an inherent right for creative). Instead they add that catch line “Images may be subject to copyright”. Google please, just change that catch line to something more legally adherent, like; “Images are inherently copyrighted, and it is against the law to use them without permission, unless otherwise stated.” This is basically saying the same thing, but making an actual point that the one they are looking at is protected. As most images have a copyright meta tag option, they could also strip that and have it placed under the image. Instead, to those in search of a presentation image or a new avatar, an image search brings a plethora of possible candidates. And many simply drag and drop the images from Google Image searches without even looking at that small print under the image.

I am convinced this is how my caricatures ended up in a cheap Greek puzzle magazine called “Το Τεστ“. If it wasn’t for the vigilant eyes of an ex-student/friend, they would have gotten away with this, but now it has been uncovered they have stolen at least twelve of my celebrity caricatures and used them illegally in their magazine. The sad part is that they probably believed I lived in a different country and so even if they knew they were doing something illegal, nothing would happen. This is a big fault of the copyright acts around the world. An inability for small time artists to afford high cost copyright lawyers to deal with these cases in foreign countries. However, for this magazine, they got a shock. Little did they know I actually lived the country of publication.

My lawyer has contacted the printers and made the point of copyright infringement.

This is where the story gets a little typical and weird at the same time. The issue with copyright infringement is that many don’t actually see it as a punishable law. So, what they do is have comeback remarks that are suppose to hide the fact that they have done something illegal. In this case, they say they didn’t realise and as compensation they wanted to strike a deal to allow them to print my caricatures in future magazine, and I should name my price. Nothing regarding the twelve that they had already put in the puzzle book without my permission, and definitely no remuneration offer for using commercial work without permission. I of course said no deal. Many cases in court can get a very high payout if the court sees considerable damage has been caused to the copyright owner.

Then the publisher came back and said, that they were willing to pay $8 per image, as that was the cost of a print I sell online. Again, stupidity reigns in the minds of the perpetrators. A lot of people don’t actually understand this aspect of the copyright law, and I have actually had people believe that because they buy a print of my work they now own the copyright of that work. Think about it, if every person in the world who bought a copy of my art on a poster print was given copyright, who is the copyright owner? Purchasing a print doesn’t relieve the artist of their inherent right over the artwork, and even more importantly, it doesn’t give any rights for the purchaser to reproduce the artworks for any reason, especially commercial reasoning. The $8 tag doesn’t give the publisher an indicator of what a licensing fee or buy out fee would be for any given works.

I indicated to the lawyer my commissioning fee for such. work and asked them to times that by the twelve copies we did find, and to add their fee on top. This was sent to the publisher and has been accepted. We are now in the final throws of the paper work, as I also asked for a retraction statement in the magazine, that states they were wrong in what they did and that they will not do it again. And the final point, if you ever find yourself in such a situation, is to get a letter from the perpetrators stating that they are liable if they do this again, and that they will delete all copies of your work from their possession.