I remember being a young artist (not a young girl, mind you, but young as an artist; a newb) just getting started and had so much to learn! I would be so excited about finishing my pieces that I would not add a signature before uploading them. This was not a philosophical stance about art and accessibility and freedom, it truly was forgetfulness. Then, as I calmed down a bit and realized that people were still going to see my work if I uploaded five minutes later, I would remember to add a signature. I always felt that the artwork itself should not be covered, because art is to be admired, so I signed on a corner.
Years later I also started to add a link to my webpage on another corner, because, you know, some people were showing the illustrations to their friends, and how nice! But then the illustration would get lost in the emails/webs and who knew where to find the original artist? I held on to this non obtrusive way of providing information about me for a very long time.
Until now. I about had it. Enough is enough, and when you realize that there is bad will from other people’s side you need to change your strategies.
See, the point is, no matter whoever tells you what, there is a law. It is called “copyright law” and it protects the original creator. Many countries, like USA, have signed the Bern Convention in which they commit themselves to protect the artist. No, it is not my obligation to register my work, it is not my obligation to mail it to myself, it is not even my obligation to sign it, nor to place big notices “this is protected by copyright laws” (by the way, it is “copyright” not copywrite”; it’s about rights, not writing). The artist owns the copyright to a piece as soon as it is created, be it a sketch or fully finished. And that belongs to the artist as long as the artist is alive and 75 years after his or her death, it belongs to the family, except if you sell the rights, which is a whole another issue. And that law states that other people cannot sell, or modify or redistribute the artwork without proper permission. Please, notice the *redistribution* idea under copyright laws.
As any law, it is your responsibility to know the law and follow it. “Oh, officer, this person did not carry a sign saying not to kill him, I was unaware that he was not to be killed” would not fly in court. I have seen in the last few months an alarming amount of people placing the blame on the artist: you should have signed, you should have watermarked, you should have said it was protected, it is art it is to be shared, don’t whine it’s publicity, your fault your fault your fault. Sadly, this is the kind of stuff me and other friends have been through over and again recently.
I used to think I was under the radar, until I noticed that mostly Pagan groups on social networking sites started to pick up my work. I guess all that activity I talked about recently worked. And my work is all over the place. Now, I am not a freak, I like people to share my work, I really enjoy seeing others appreciating and enjoying my work, and I don’t deem of thieves those who respect me and share. I would very much appreciate a line or two “Artwork by Constanza Ehrenhaus see her work here” and a link to my gallery, any of them. But the problem arises when all the information I put in the files is cropped. When I see artwork that has been cropped and has no name or link anymore and when asked politely to provide the artist’s information the person redistributing answers with a snarky “Oh, it is the artist’s responsibility to sign the art”. Believe me, my blood boils.
Again, when you redistribute my work, you are basically breaking the law. It does not bother me at all when you leave the work unchanged, I am a very friendly person and I actually like to see my work going around with my signature and website. What I do not appreciate is when all that is cropping this information away, then I take it as what it is, someone not respecting my intellectual property and my work and trying to erase all traces of how to track me as an artist… free publicity, eh? How are others supposed to know who drew the image?
So, now I do add a watermark across my work. Do I like it? No, really I do not like it at all, but if someone wants to remove that, they will have to put more work into it of what is worth to just re-share the work as is. I wish I did not have to do this, but unfortunately I find that is needed. Please, excuse this action, I am not happy about having to do it, and I am sure a lot of you find it aggravating too. But I’ve had enough of people being rude back at me when I politely ask them to credit my work.
So, what happens if I find my work being redistributed? For the most part nothing. If the work is unchanged and my information is still there, I smile and many times have left a comment as “I am glad you like my work!” If the information has been cropped or erased in any way I normally ask politely that information be provided, sometimes people find the image already modified online. What happens next depends on the reaction of the other person, it might be a “thank you for understanding” or filing a Cease and Desist if there is a bad interaction. And, oh! you will get a Cease and Desist automatically if I find my work in any form or shape related to demeaning comments or images to other groups, which has happened. I believe we all can coexist in harmony, and I am not about to have my art being linked to any kind of derogation toward anybody else.