By: Marcella Hayes Muhammad / Artist
I am relaxed in front of TV for the evening waiting for my GRIMM program to come on and my husband taps my shoulder, “Hon, isn’t this one of your paintings?” He holds his phone up and there is this flyer on the screen. I am speechless for a minute as it sinks in, “Yes, that’s my painting but I didn’t do a flyer like this and no one asked me for permission to use this image.” I immediately went into copyright law mode and sent a stop order to the person that sent it out. Cease and desist!
Now, don’t say that they didn’t know any better and ignorance is no defense. And don’t tell me I should be flattered. They have in fact diminished the value of my original work by doing this! If that image was a copyrighted Disney character or a copyrighted Nike Swoosh they would have many second thoughts on the matter. Why then do most people think it fair game to steal the copyrighted image from an artist? Art is my business and that is how I make my living. All of my works are copyrighted. I am not in business to allow people to steal my works for their own purpose. I have contracts of license when my work is used on a product and that is business with profit for both the licensing company and the artist.
The image above is the flyer that sparked this post. I took a picture next to my copyrighted painting that has been on exhibit in museums and galleries and is part of an American Reconstruction Series. It is titled “Sharecroppers Prayer” a saying my mother used to mutter when she was frustrated of an outcome by saying, “If the Lord is willing and the crops don’t fail”. After researching for this series and running across that saying, I was inspired to paint this old lady in the pose of my inspirational artist, Elizabeth Catlett’s Sharecropper. It took me 2 months of researching, sketching, and painting to have this finished product. The time and effort to make this one of a kind original oil on archival canvas is the thing that makes its value. I have no prints of this image on purpose because that tends to devalue the original to a collector. I don’t know any serious collector that would invest their money in an art piece and then not mind if they see it reflected in card shops, or poster shops, or floating around in other forms on Social Media.
In addition to having a website and the use of Social Media today, many artists post images of their work on their forum to either show what they have done, possibly make sales, or get feedback from others. No serious artist that is in the business of fine art shows their work to allow anyone to use it for their own purpose without permission.
Well, why post it if you don’t want it used! Because it’s on my own forum and all my artist friends know the copyright laws. This must have been taken from my website with the express purpose of stealing for their own use. Before you say it, using a watermark is futile because there is software that can easily remove them if you want the image bad enough. It is through constant vigilance and educating the public that will allow this to become more understood and perhaps less of an issue. One good thing is that the resolution on the social media and websites are so low that professional reproduction is no longer an issue as it was for a time when your work could show up as a fine art print from China. Now it’s those emoji flyers floating around on Social Media.
The best deterrent is having a great network of people that know your work (thanks to my Husband) and will call you to verify its use. I once had a friend visiting in Germany and saw one of my works in an art store there. She called to report it to me and it was OK because it was a licensed piece. Another called me from Oakland California and it was also licensed. Great to have friends like that! I have also called friends of mine to give them heads up about their art being used if they were not aware. Sometimes it’s a license use and that’s OK, other times it’s not OK and the artist can pursue to protect their copyright.
If you are an artist, Google your name and see what art is reflected by your name. I found a site in Scotland selling small prints of my work without permission and had to send a cease and desist to them. The resolution was so bad and fuzzy even in that small format that it was obvious they had stolen the images from my website. So pass this on when you see someone using art and help them understand that permission is needed and if they say “NO”…you know why.