Saturday, September 30, 2006

Steal this image

I know there are people who think we are nuts to display our artwork on the internet. After all, it is just so easy to steal, when it is out there like that—that's the way the argument goes. I do think about that, but really, I can't get too worked up about it. It's not that I don't care about someone stealing my work, it's just that I'm not sure it is really that easy to do, or that profitable. And what do we mean by "stealing" the work—using the same idea or methods?—downloading the photo for some kind of use?—making a literal copy of the work?

Ed Maskevitch wrote a blog entry called "Only I can be me" which talks about how openly he shares his painting techniques and methods with students and others. He says, "As they tried to use my tools I could see their creativity begin to slowly open up. Each person was creating a variation on the methods. This was not because they were trying to vary it but because they were bringing who and what they were to the methods." It's not so easy to copy someone else's work or way of working.

Earlier this week someone named Virginia took me to task, in a blog comment, about the photo I took at the Allied Arts gallery. After I took the picture I saw a sign that requested no photos. I didn't take any more photos, but I did post the one I took on the blog. Virginia wrote, "why is this photo still here (with no artist credited), ready to be stolen by anyone who looks at your blog?" She has a point, in that I knowingly posted a photo that I was specifically directed not to take. Maybe I will remove the photo. I suppose this ethical lapse didn't really register with me because I find it so unlikely that anyone could "steal" this image and find a way to benefit from it. Could they, with the assistance of this photo, somehow duplicate that charming mug, reproduce it by the thousands and somehow make a pile of money from it? Pretty unlikely—and illegal (copyright, you know). They could steal the idea of a face on a mug, but that is not exactly an original idea to begin with.

Ironically, the same day I got Virginia's comment, I made an interesting discovery about some of my own work. Deborah mentioned Susan Carlson on her blog and provided a link to her web site. I have always loved Susan Carlson's work, so I clicked on the link and was both fascinated and a little horrified to find a series of pieces featuring beetles on her site. I was horrified because they were so similar to a series of beetles that I did several months ago. My anxiety came, not from any suspicion that she copied my work—I'm pretty sure she is not even aware of me or my work, nor does she need to troll the internet for ideas—but that other people would see both and assume that I had copied her. I didn't know about her beetles when I made mine. I have calmed down. Ideas are out there in the ether and there are very few truly original ideas left. But we are each original and the way we execute our ideas is what makes our work unique and hard for anyone else to duplicate.

Yes, I'm sure many of you can cite instances of image theft that constituted real or perceived harm. I know it could happen and I know my casual attitude could come back to bite me. I just don't think I can work up the paranoia to worry about it in the meantime.


  1. Hey, as a frequent visitor of Susan's website, you did not steal her idea nor did she steal yours. I know she has been doing beetles for some time. It just reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun. Posting photos on the web is no different than having your work in a shop. I don't need a photo to inspire me - just one look that's all it took! OK, I'm getting silly, but I get so weary of the don't let anyone see my work blather!!

  2. Hey Terry, I have to agree with you on this. This all reminds me of working with folks with business ideas who chose not to share for fear I would take the idea and run. Little did they know that I had neither the time nor inclination. I was there to help if I could and if they couldn't let me know what we were talking about there was little I could do in the way of assistance.

  3. Copyright is a tricky thing. Have you heard of Brenda Papadakis and the Dear Jane book. It is an old quilt that Brenda found at a museum or someplace, and she drew pictures of all of the blocks, using her engineering degree, and published a book that showed a photo of each block, and her drawing. Her book also includes letters Brenda has written to the maker of the quilt.
    Anyway, someone made this very difficult quilt, and tried to sell it. Brenda wanted part of the proceeds of the sale because it was a "copyright" pattern. There was no way this poor woman was going to get enough money for the value of her time for this quilt, much less having to share it.

  4. I'm glad you wrote about this, this copyright thing is bugging me. Of course nobody wants someone else to make copies of their work and sell it, but I really don't understand not letting people take pictures at a quilt show or art show. I'd be flattered if it was my work, if someone wants to try to make one instead of buying mine, go for it.
    I was in an antique shop the other day that had up a "no pics" sign, I'm not sure what the heck they're worried about, someone arranging their antiques in the same manner?

  5. I encounter that type of thinking all the time as I start my own creative business. Frankly, I don't care if someone copies what I'm doing. As I was learning to make jewellery I duplicated the work of other, as a way to learn at home, and now I'm on my way to discovering my own style, so what was the harm? Do I have the market cornered on a particular item, I doubt it. I made a particularly cute (and quite original for me) clasp one day on a piece of jewellery and someone on a forum commented that I shouldn't show it's just a concept that I don't get, it doesn't fit with me. At a craft show last year I was telling people how I drill my beachglass. My partner at the time didn't want to tell anyone anything because then they might turn out to be our competition. To me, as long as I'm enjoying what I do, and am striving to do it well, I can't be always worried that someone will see what I do and then start doing it!? I love to share ideas and at this stage in my new business, whether this is naivety (did I spell that correctly?) or just my personality, it's just not a concern that I watermark every photo, or even put a copyright on my website. If someone wants to make what I'm making, go for it. If they want to use pictures for teaching, go for it. If they decide to pass along my name great...but that's up to them. I'm focused on what I make and putting myself into my work...and having fun. How much fun is worrying about whether or not someone is using a picture you put on the internet as their wallpaper?