Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

How I make sure my art doesn’t get ripped off on the Internet

2010 . 11 . 10

- -—[version française]—- -

I follow these six easy steps to make sure my art doesn’t get stolen online:

1) Be original.

I aim to make art so original that no one will question who made it.

2) Sell only live art.

I’ve given up on the idea that art in reproduction is for sale and I focus on making work that is better in person than in reproduction.

3) Pursue credit in innovative ways.

No one has ever claimed a reproduction of my work as their own, but when I’ve known about images of my work being used without any mention of my name I’ve approached the situation as a teaching opportunity or used it as an illustrative point.

4) Embrace the copying of style.

Lots of people make originals that resemble mine somewhat, and it makes me feel pretty good about my work.

5) Don’t assume that anyone is copying style.

It’s usually pretty difficult to be sure that anyone is copying anyone else. That said, if another artist was making and selling works that I was certain were copies of my paintings, I would probably talk about them on my blog. It would drive Internet traffic looking for them to me.

6) Be clear about what you want from the world and from the Internet.

I make sure everyone knows where I stand with regards to copyright. At the bottom of every page of my site, there’s a smiley face instead of a ©. Click on the face and it takes you to a page that fully explains my beliefs.

Humans have never believed in paying for an idea or even in giving credit for every idea. I like to think I always remember to do so, but I probably don’t. It’s hard to trace every bit of culture that makes up my own personal culture—the things I believe in, enjoy, and create. 

Everything from screaming about your intellectual property rights and threatening lawyers to shrink-wrapping your images online and making them not right-click-able is just burying your head in the sand. An open source world is the one we’ve always lived in: it’s the one we built.

If you want to protect your work from being ripped off online, find some punk way of doing it, because otherwise you’re just joining a system that’s intent on destroying culture.


Nessa’s Liberty 2010

This is isn’t my art. I mean, it’s made with a digital reproduction of my art—this one to be precise—but it’s my friend Nessa who made this image. She’s brilliant with Photoshop, and she’s always using her talents to put herself in strange places (visually, I mean). I was flattered that one of my works would earn a Nessa face!

And anyway, we all know that this isn’t Nessa’s image or mine. This Liberty may not be holding a torch, but she still belongs to Frédéric Bartholdi, the man who designed Liberty Enlightening the World, a monument commonly known as the Statue of Liberty. 

Then again Bartholdi wasn’t exactly inventing something new either. He was pulling from a lot of old ideas and most notably from the Colossus of Rhodes, an enormous statue that probably held a torch which possibly represented freedom and certainly acted as a beacon for ships arriving at the harbor of Rhodes where the statue stood in the 3rd century BCE. He wanted to represent a version of Columbia (the female personification of the US) influenced by everything from Eugène Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People to the ancient Roman goddess of liberty.

Talk about a mash-up! Bartholdi was so hip-hop.

Is it such a disappointment that culture draws on culture to make new culture? Is it such a surprise? As an artist, I, for one, intend to encourage this sort of thing. It’s what I live for.

- What the artist Adrienne Lewis did for me
- When it’s too much copying / Quand c’est trop d’imitation
- My TEDx talk! / Ma conférence TEDx!

CATEGORIES: - English - TOP POSTS - Business of art - Uncopyright -

Gwenn Seemel on Liberapay     Gwenn Seemel on Patreon

-- Gwenn -- 2010 . 11 . 10 --

Generously reblogged here with commentary.  And David Isenberg’s post has introduced me to Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks which I am very excited to read…!

Also reblogged on BoingBoing with an interesting comment thread.

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-- Helen Koba -- 2010 . 11 . 11 --

Enjoyed visiting your blog and reading your tips above. Like the color in your paintings too!

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-- Braincrave -- 2010 . 11 . 11 --

Well put. We will be doing this article as tomorrow’s daily intellectual discussion topic on Braincrave.com. The topic with part of your article will be at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=379 later this evening (Nov 11, 2010). If you’d like to participate via IRC (or through Second Life), you can find the details at http://www.braincrave.com/irc.php. The discussions will formally start at 12 PM PST and 7 PM PST on November 12, 2010.

Thanx for your excellent post.

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-- Janice G. -- 2010 . 11 . 11 --

A bit puzzled here…
Does anyone even copy your art?
Aren’t you being a bit presumptuous that people are interested in copying your art? It is portraits of real people. Why would they copy your art?

You write: “Lots of people make originals that resemble mine somewhat, and it makes me feel pretty good about my work.”
Do you have any examples? How do you know they are copying you? Perhaps they developed it on their own or copying another artist?

You write: “Humans have never believed in paying for an idea or even in giving credit for every idea.”
Yeah, like Picasso gave away all his art and Thomas Edison never made a cent off his inventions or Steve Jobs does not make billions off his ideas for computers and phones. LOL.

You write:
“If you want to protect your work from being ripped off online, find some punk way of doing it,...”
What exactly is a “punk way of doing it”?

Then You write:
“...because otherwise you’re just joining a system that’s intent on destroying culture.”

What system is intent on destroying culture? The Internet? People who copy? Are you saying that copyrighting destroys culture?

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-- Janice G. -- 2010 . 11 . 11 --

Visited your “copyrights/smiley” page & you write:
“If you intend to use images of my work to make money, you must first contact the subjects of the portraits in order to obtain their permission to do so.”

So how does one do that? How does one know if the subjects are even real? And if one doesn’t contact the subjects for permission what happens?
This sounds like a copyright infringement situation to me - just different words the same effect.

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-- Gwenn -- 2010 . 11 . 11 --

@Braincrave: Thanks!

@Janice G: I’ll go through your points one by one in a way that will hopefully encourage you to be less vitriolic if you choose to comment again. 

People copying my style: A recent example is two high school art classes whose assignment is to do exactly that.  I wrote about one of them here.  Teachers often ask to use my work as an example and it makes me feel pretty good about my work.

Paying for ideas: Do you know where every piece of your own personal culture comes from?  Or do you believe that you invented it all on your own?  I’m just saying that culture is a pretty convoluted thing and we’re all guilty to some degree of “theft” or “appropriation” and I happen to think that’s okay to some degree.

The punk way of protecting your art: As I described in my post, you could blog about the person who is copying your work and drive traffic looking for them to your site.

What’s destroying culture: Culture is created by imperfect imitations over time (see this video for a full explanation), and copyright ends up being used to try to close down imitation.  So, is copyright killing culture?  Or is it the people who use copyright who are killing culture?  You tell me.

My smiley page: Most of my subjects are named and, if you know anything about my work, you know that I only paint real people.  I would prefer that reproductions of my work always be free, but it’s hard to control every last person in the universe.  So, when I talk about someone using my art to make money, I am reminding them that my subjects have rights to my paintings as well.  With my statement I’m trying to protect the person who would use my work as well as the rights of my subjects.

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-- Nessa -- 2010 . 11 . 11 --

Thanks for the shout-out Gwenn. You know I LOVE your point of view on copyright and I think you should keep speaking out about it lady, if only to shake up the Janice G.s of the world.

But seriously, people should look into the crazy things that are being done with the poorly worded internet copyright laws. Mostly, they don’t benefit artists but rather corporations anyway and they are also being used to shut down our first amendment rights.

I think before people speak to your points or to your work, they should do a little research, get up to speed on both your art (what, how, why, etc.) and the state of copyright law—it makes for much more intelligent debate.

Lastly, I always find it amusing on the internet how people get worked up so easily over someone stating their own opinion, especially when it is not something that is hurting anyone else. I could understand Janice G’s tone if you had for example, said, “Janice G stole my work and I never sued her.” or “Janice G just filed another copyright infringement lawsuit against someone, what a loser!” But you said nothing of the kind.

In any case, I love how you handled it.

Big Fan

- Ness

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-- Janice G. -- 2010 . 11 . 12 --

RE: People copying my style:
Regarding your example. Good grief, these are junior high or high school students in an art class, not a gang of professional art forgers making copies to sell or some print publishers cranking out copies of your paintings. (And it appears you were involved in the teaching of painting in your style. You agreed to it!)
The concept of “copyright” means that someone has the right to copy something. An artist owns the rights to who makes copies of their art.
A direct copy.
For example, a print.
A copyright violation is not a new painting by another artist in maybe, kind-of-like in the somewhat style in your paintings.

RE: “Paying for ideas: Do you know where every piece of your own personal culture comes from?”

Does anyone care to know?

RE: “So, is copyright killing culture?  Or is it the people who use copyright who are killing culture?  You tell me.”

Answer, neither. The thought is irrelevant to copyright laws.
Copyright only means the copying - making a copy - of the original art. Artist “A” makes a painting. Person “B” makes copies (prints) of the art and sells them or uses them in a publication or website without permission to copy the art work from the artist. That is a violation of copyright law - unless the artist has given permission for anyone to print and sell it as they please.
And this making copies of art (possibly violating a copyright) has nothing to do with someone painting in the “style” of another artist.
One can’t copyright a style.
If so, then an arist could only paint in the color blue and if anyone else painted “blue” paintings they would be violating the artist’s copyright on the use of blue.

RE: “So, when I talk about someone using my art to make money, I am reminding them that my subjects have rights to my paintings as well.”

So then your art is copyrighted and the rights to make copies are restricted. You are doing the exact spirit of the copyright law which you so dislike.

RE: “As I described in my post, you could blog about the person who is copying your work and drive traffic looking for them to your site.”

That would be a total waste of time.

Copyright has nothing to do with painting in a similar style. Who created the cubist art movement Picasso or Braque? One would do a painting the other would respond with their own cubist work…on and on until they got bored with it. Neither was violating the others “copyright” on their style.
The “Blaue Reiter” art group in Germany in the early 1900s was a group of artists that all painted in the same basic style. They weren’t violating each others “copyrights”.
Gaugin painted similar to Van Gogh or vice-versa; sometimes painting the same subject and Bernard enjoyed both their styles. There was no “copying”. There was “ah…you use that color combination that way and put it on that way…oh I will try that and do it a little different.”
But none “copied” the other. They learned from each other, then gave it their own twist.

I am all for artists protecting their art via copyright.
If anyone should make money from their art, it should be the artist first.
Do you live solely from the income of your art? Many artists do (or want to) and one of the ways to do it is either sell copies of the art or license the art for others to use.
Copyright law protects the artists from others making unauthorized copies of their art.
Copyright law does not protect an artist from people that paint in a similar style.

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-- Janice G. -- 2010 . 11 . 12 --

@Nessa You write: “poorly worded internet copyright laws”
How are they poorly written?

You write: “Mostly, they don’t benefit artists but rather corporations anyway and they are also being used to shut down our first amendment rights.”
Where is your proof that copyright laws only benefit corporations and not artists?

Where is your proof that copyright laws shut down our first amendment rights?
The First Amendment to the US Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Please give us examples where copyright law “shut down our first amendment rights”.

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-- Gwenn -- 2010 . 11 . 12 --

@Janice G:  I think we have different priorities, both in what we’re interested in in this discussion and in how we choose to treat other people online. 

This conversation would work better if you revealed more of yourself and if you used your real identity instead of an email address with the term “gwendom” in it.  If I knew who you were I might be able to understand more of your motivation for joining this discussion, and, as an added bonus, you might be more respectful in your tone towards other people.

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-- Renee Miller -- 2010 . 11 . 12 --

Interesting post and comments. First, I’m sure this will be debated by some, but I’m also an artist, although I work in a different medium. Copyright plays a huge role. Where you paint, I write and I have to say that I agree with much of what you’re saying, Gwenn. I think the persective you’re taken on people ‘copying’ your art is very realistic. Ideas are free. Ideas can’t be owned. It’s up to the artist to decide whether to use their own original ideas or to come up with something new.

In writing, there are only so many plots, or basic storylines available, so the same idea gets used over and over again. The ideal situation is that each writer makes it their own. However, there have been times where a writer has outright ‘stolen’ a story and only changed characters, possibly setting and that’s it. What does the original author do? There’s nothing they can do really. It’s not the ‘same’ story.

Anyway, I think perhaps Janice G. has an axe to grind for whatever reason. To comment with such hostility and obvious bitterness seems strange. But whatever. Keep posting thoughtful and intelligent blogs as you have, Gwenn.

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-- Kristina -- 2010 . 11 . 12 --

This is a must see (if you haven’t already): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJn_jC4FNDo.  Very smart and to the point (even if it’s a little over 10 minutes long). 

I think what people like Janice and maybe (?) other artists forget is that copyright is first and foremost used by massive corporations with massive profit margins trying to further engorge their coffers.

That’s it.  A quick look into who (or what) is doing the majority of the litigating when it comes to these cases makes this clear.  Maybe (if you’re feeling generous) this wasn’t the original intent of the drafters, but whatever the intent, that is exactly what it is today. 

People who believe it serves to protect “the burgeoning artist/entrepreneur” don’t appreciate the cost, stress and unpredictability of litigation.  Corporations can take these burdens on without even blinking, not so much the up and coming artist trying to make a name for him/herself. 

If you want to see an excellent example of how these “rights” are typically exercised, check this article out (http://news.opb.org/article/usoc-cracks-down-olympic-peninsula-winery/).

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-- ilter -- 2010 . 11 . 16 --

I respect your opinion, but Janice G has so many valid points.

Not everything is created with the same amount of effort and money.

When a musician wants to get published, usually a lot of time (and money) has to be spent, and: “Hey, everyone is getting ripped” doesn’t really cut it. Neither does: “If you can’t avoid it, try enjoying it”.

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-- Gwenn -- 2010 . 11 . 16 --

@ilter: My focus is not on “if you can’t avoid it, try enjoying it,” it’s on “this is the way culture works.”  What I mean by that is that I draw so much on the culture that already exists in order to make my contributions to culture that it seems silly to me that I would try to stop someone from doing the same with my work.  I want my art to be a part of culture, a part of what is remixed.

I make my living from my work and have done so for over 7 years, so when I say that I’m for free culture I’m not saying that I don’t expect to make money from making art.  I’m saying that the old model of doing so (for example, selling art in reproduction) doesn’t work anymore.  This post is about what the new model looks like for me.

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-- ilter -- 2010 . 11 . 17 --

Okay, the post title reads: “.... my art ...”, and it looks like you are happy the things are working out for you the way you’d like them to.
But that’s not how “my art” works.
I work for and with many artists in music business, and they are not marketing gurus each. There are so many “new” things for them to cover in order to put their own music to the table in the new century.

So, in a way, what you suggest with this post of yours, sounds as if, you would also support piracy as well.

Because that’s what “free culture” chatter develops into.
And THAT’S what I don’t like.

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-- Mark Bell -- 2010 . 11 . 17 --

This is the most reasonable and thoughtful response to the issues of intellectual property theft I’ve come across yet. This whole problem might possibly solve itself, if only others were so rational.

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-- Ron Grauer -- 2011 . 05 . 06 --

Re: Janice G. Thank God I don’t know her. I really try not to hate anyone, especially acquaintances.

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-- Joe -- 2011 . 08 . 23 --

Great post.

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-- Lance Haynie -- 2016 . 10 . 01 --

Unfortunately, its near impossible these days.

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-- Gwenn -- 2016 . 10 . 02 --

@Lance: O dear, it seems as though you commented without reading the article at all! :p Please try again!

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