It’s a difficult career being a freelance artist, especially when the Internet is one of the more common tools to make that living. In todays age, it is getting more and more difficult to sell, find or maintain work via the internet, and to be honest, if I were paid to hear stories from artists who have such negative experiences in the same manner as I do, then I could retire early. As it is, I am set to drop at the drawing table, struggling to get someone willing to pay the proper price tag for something that could take me upto two weeks to make.
Why is it so hard? One main point is that there is so much ignorance within people regarding the internet. Instead of spelling them all out as grievances here, I have dotted the post with some of the more illuminating idiosyncrasies of people inhabiting the internet.
It must be said that when I first began using the web; when it was grey browsers, with text and badly formatted image positions, it was all seemingly free. But back then it wasn’t a haven for capitalist free-loaders who wanted to find any way to make a buck at someone else’s expense. I remember that you could visit almost any educational institute and download PDF files from thesis and reports openly. All images could be saved (though poor quality) by a right mouse click. And nobody gave a care.
I am not sure if it’s the rewriting of the copyright laws or the invention of the DMCA that started all this ignorance via the internet. Maybe it was simply the evolution of the technology that gave rise to the opportunists. Making the things worth stealing, actually of good quality and seemingly open for abuse. However, the biggest issue is the enormous amount of confusing or lack of awareness of what the copyright laws are, and what they mean. A quick example is an incident that happened to me, where someone said that “they didn’t see the © on my work” so though it was free to use! Now, there is no actual obligation to place a © on your artwork to protect it. By law, the creator automatic has rights of protection, and the symbol is merely a notification that the creator is stating this fact. Absence of the symbol does not negate the copyright.
What the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) has achieved, has actually made it a lot easier for thieves to make money and to steal. This has been achieved, because what it has now managed to do, is free up the ISP companies from their liability in being prosecuted in such copyright cases. How does that enable thieves? Well, the internet has become such an anonymous place, that (as an example), a thief could steal loads of artwork, upload it via a proxy, under an assumed name and nobody would be any the wiser about how to track them down to prosecute them. You can’t prosecute the website hosting it, as the DMCA has disabled that ability. So, to an extent many artist’s have to bite their tongue as the ability to stop the wave of counterfeit items seems near impossible. To quote a report read some months back, China makes $60billion in counterfeit revenue a year!
Other issues I have discovered that hinder the small-time artist and low income creative are an annoying factor in any litigation that they wish to chase on any given item they do manage to track down. If I was an artist in (say) Greece, and I discover someone has stolen my artwork and placed it on a mobile phone case, as a counterfeit, in India, and uploaded it to Amazon.com for example. Firstly, Amazon, if you are lucky (being tangled in their bureaucratic method of doing takedowns) will only take the item of the web. The thief in India still has your art. He could easy try a new venue online, or even sell it locally on markets, invisible to your knowledge. So, if you literally want to chase the thief and stop him, seek compensation, etc. You literally have to hire a lawyer in HIS country of residence and go through their legal procedures to find any justice. In my mind this is wrong. If you are the victim, you should have the ability to prosecute the thief in your country. A point the copyright laws fails to include, as they were written before the Internet, and the DMCA (which is mainly USA based protection), avoids to implement, as it’s protecting the innocent providers of the space, not the content providers.
Where the internet creates a big flaw, is in the fact that it’s method of operation helps reinforce this ignorant attitude. By that I mean simply, nobody knows what the copyright laws are, and what they mean. They see the ©, but think that is something that probably doesn’t apply to them. That the internet is a free market place. Slap the image on your Facebook profile, download it and use it as a wallpaper, paste it on Tumblr without a credit. So, almost everyone gets way with it!! Mostly through ignorant bliss in not even looking into copyright to see if they have the right to use it. The internet has become such a fast moving society platform these days, that people don’t scan down to the bottom of the page and read if there is a copyright notice (not that there legal has to be one). Most of the work stolen and populating the internet of mine is taken from my site. I believe this to be true, because I read an article some months back (here), that was talking about the need to add watermarks. But not just simple watermarks, watermarks that are like the Getty image ones; obtrusive and in the way. The reason being, is that technology is so good today that the basic watermarks can be found and removed using many a simple freebie shareware tool on the web. The article claimed in test, that the Getty image one was the hardest to remove. So, I produced my own “getty image” watermark (you can see here), and since then the number of stolen images has dropped considerably, and images that have not populated the web without it, only appear on sites that are authorised.
Te sad fact is at the base of my website there is a copyright notice and a link to a more defined explanation of how and where these images can be used (here). Do people look? Obviously not, because if they did, they would see that I have outlined the fact that no image can be used without permission. Now, there are a lot of debate points to be made about the actual attitude of the people who go out and deliberately steal people’s art to make money. Some even say; “well you can buy if for 25¢, so what’s the problem (namely referring to stock sites selling stock images, and every thinking that all art is the same). I know this is an extreme tangent in some respects, but a conversation I just had this morning, also referred to the moralistic attitude. Many people on the planet consider themselves religious, and it states that “thou shall not steal.” However, they seem comfortable plodding off to church, but at the same time, downloading loads of art, posting it as their own or using as merchandise on POD sites. I believe that is called hypocrisy.
The simple fact that a brick wall is placed infant of many freelance artist that wants to try and do something about this, is another point that creates this surge. The artists feel hopeless, so they resign themselves, and then the wave of thefts increases because nobody gives a damn. Websites such as eBay, Amazon, Alibaba, etc all have a lack of contact points were an artist can actually call and air their feelings. Instead they are subjected to a long time consuming process of filling in online forms and sending in the form in a hope they will, at least, take the item down if not stop the seller. It truly becomes a frustration. and I know, as I do this on a weekly basis. This week however, I discovered that a shop, not 2 miles from my house, is actually in possession of many of my artworks and are printing them on t-shirts illegally. It was one thing that they were stealing in China, but in my own neighbourhood!!! Luckily I am on this case and a lawyer will hopefully do right and we will get justice.
Regarding copyright though. How can you educate the common user (and there is a lot of them) on the internet of the fact of what is and what isn’t copyrighted or free? Well, the technology is there. Instead of allowing right click downloads, etc, or even click-thru on images, it could be made that all ISP’s enforce a redirect to an online form the the person has to state their identity and upload an ID or something to allow them to use the image, and also, that the have to credit and link the image back to the original place of being found. Failing that, a roll-over box could appear on all copyrighted images, that states it’s copyrighted, and that taking this image is against the law. This may not slow people down in the theft process, but at least they cannot claim ignorance that they didn’t know it’s copyrighted. With the new developments in html5 and CSS there must be a way to create a new img tag, that has a copyright attribute, so this browser then recognises the fact that it shouldn’t be copied or downloaded.
This last statement I have heard is my favourite and I kept till last, as it is something that frustrates the typical artist. That “picture” took the artist time to do, it is what that artist does for a living. It is how that artist makes money. So, to simply say it’s just a picture is like saying you are worthless and we can steal from you. It’s a good argument when you can confront a thief, when you ask them if they’d mind if I took their products and not pay for it? Of course they do, because it’s how they make their freaking living! I think the point here is that the copyright laws have become complex, nobody really knows them, they ignore them based on not wanting to understand them and that is their defence. In support of that the laws have not really evolved as much as the internet has, and their is no real global protection or mandate to protect these copyright laws. If it was mandatory that all websites have a DMCA reporting page built into their structure then this could go a long way to help start the cull of illegality on the web.