Earlier in the year, through an amazing sequence of events, Francis from Singapore discovered one of his sketches was used on a wall in a Singaporean restaurant in Shanghai. Within minutes of his posting this on facebook, the adjacent food sketch was recognized as mine. What a great example of the power of social media…and proof that I have a distinct style – hey?
Thanks to local lawyer friend of Alvin (Hong Kong USKer,) we were able to get photos of the full wall. The original photo Francis had was only one part of the wall.
The rest of the wall featured sketches by Don Low and Paul Wang. And right in the middle a huge sketch of a row of shophouses… one of mine! Incredibly the designer had included a note at the bottom “Designed by [email protected]”. Wow! what cheek!
Do I need to explain that there was no approval or payment to use these works in this way?
Now, there isn’t much respect for copyright in China, but it turned out that this was done by a Singapore Design Firm. I don’t want to go on about how shocking and outrageous this stealing of our work is – but instead I want to share a few more pro-active thoughts.
What did we do?
We emailed the guy asking for either payment or for the works to be removed. No surprise, which of the options was chosen… yes, the images were removed.
Here are photos of the stock images that were used in replacement. Trying to fight for payment or compensation is something some people might feel inclined to do, but sadly I think in many cases it is a waste of time.
The designer claimed he had no idea who was the owner of the work but my shophouse sketch clearly had my blog listed and it is very easy to contact me.
How many of our images are being used without our permission and knowledge?
It is hard to say! Perhaps there are many of my images that have been lifted from my sites. In the last month, there have been a number of other instances of my friends’ work being claimed by other people as their own, being used on websites and even being put onto cards and sold on Etsy.
The big surprise?
The fact my low res Flickr version was high enough resolution to reproduce my sketch on a wall – and look good! I have my Flickr set to ‘disable download’ and maximum image size 1024. Obviously, this size is not safe. Wow! that has really surprised me.
I have been using watermarks for the last year or so. I don’t believe in locating the watermark in a way that destroys the viewer’s enjoyment of the work so I locate mine on the edges of the image. Regardless of where it is located, watermarks can be easily photoshopped out, so I know that if someone really wants to use my work, they will find a way. Therefore, my reason to watermark is not to stop people from stealing my images, but as an identifier. If someone finds my image and wants to see more of my work (or commission a sketch or two!), the watermark’s role is to point them to this site!
Well, I thought 1024 was a safe size but obviously, it is not. It also seems that in this case, the work was taken from Flickr. A pixel width 640 is a standard size, it is the width of my blog and it is now the size that I use to post my work to FB and here on the blog. It is a little small if someone whats to look at the work carefully…. have any of you noticed the size difference? They look the same on the blog page, but if you click on the 1200 version you can see a larger version in the lightbox mode.
Here are the two sizes…. and here is the version on Flickr.
My plan is to post only 640 size images of square/landscape single-page images and 1200 for the long spreads (which equals 600 for the single page)
In regard to Flickr, I could choose to only upload 640 size images but I use it as an off-site backup and therefore upload high-resolution versions that I can only access. I have disabled downloading by others and the 1020 is the smallest size that is available (see above). Therefore if I want to continue using Flickr as an archive, I don’t really have an option to stop this happening again… unless I upload two versions, one private use only of high resolution, and one publicly viewed low-resolution version.
Sharing ups and downs
Basically, if you share your work online there is nothing much you can do to totally remove any chance of it being stolen or copied.
The upside of sharing generously is that people know our work and it is instantly recognisable…in my case, even when it is not teacups! That is quite powerful – we have a network of spotters around the globe. It is possible that social media could be used to protest against organisations that stole artwork. It is not something that I would promote, but having 100s or 1000s of emails flood an organisation would be a way for them to get the message. Whether or not they would actually pay the artist for use of the work is another matter entirely! Hopefully, as in this case, the designer would not do this again.
The Bottom Line
There is so much to gain by sharing my work online – I don’t want to lose that. Sharing and sharing generously is the very core of what I do, but at the same time, I don’t want to make it too easy for people to steal my work! Striking the balance is the challenge, and whatever I do, I want my sharing to continue in a way that it brings joy to my readers … and to me too!
Anyway – I am very interested in people’s thoughts and similar experiences.
You might want to check out this very comprehensive post on the subject by Katherine Tyrrell.