A guest post about copyright infringement by Victoria Rose Martin
Seriously, can we talk about jerks? And you know whom I am talking about; it’s those people who want to relieve you of your hard earned money and artwork. I recall 3 times in my life when professionally I have dealt with totally dishonest people. The first experience happened way back when I was 18 years old. A person asked me to create illustrations for a motorcycle-coloring book. Long story short, after I completed a series of drawings for them they told me they weren’t going to use my artwork. A year later I found a coloring book with my illustrations. It was my word against theirs. The second time an art gallery I dealt with was notifying artists that their art had been broken at the gallery and we were out our money. It so happened this gallery pulled this stunt on a very prestigious glass artist. When the prestigious glass artist’s dealer asked for the broken shards it was revealed that the gallery owner was selling work, and pocketing the money all for herself.
The third time was when a gallery found me online and asked if they could sell my work. I thought I did my homework, Googling the gallery, the proprietor, and artists who were represented by the gallery. I even went so far as to contact artists who showed at the gallery to inquire if they were happy with their experience. Long story short, getting money out of this person was on par with getting a root canal. I got a lot of run around and when I requested that my unsold art be returned, all of the sudden the work had just sold and they would send a check. Months pass, no check, I complained sent an invoice and finally a check was sent, which bounced. Another invoice was sent and threats were made, I received a money order for the amount due including bank fees for the bad check. In the scope of life it’s not a huge disaster but still a learning opportunity.
How does an artist protect himself or herself from dishonest people? Those rip off merchants who would rather rob you of your intellectual property than use their own. Here are some pointers:
1. If you do send work to a person you do not know you must be prepared for the possibility of not seeing money and consider it a donation. Do your homework. Do not be afraid to contact other artists who show at that space and ask if they would recommend that gallery. You could agree to send a couple of pieces which you are paid wholesale pricing (50% of the msrp) in advance and then go from there. Be reasonable, if you are selling paintings for $20,000 you’re gallery director is most likely going to say no to half up front. They’re in business to make money too.
2. Get everything in writing. Create contracts and or invoices send them to your clients. I love email because it creates a paper trail where I can embed and attach invoices. Even if you forget the fine details of a conversation you can easily reread an old email to jostle your memory.
3. Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good. If you don’t put images on the internet how will anyone know who you are? On the other hand if you put crystal clear large-scale images on your blog, don’t be surprised if somebody uses them. If you don’t want to tempt thieves you might consider posting low-resolution images. Scale images down to approximately 800 pixels wide at 72 ppi (pixels per inch) and the fine detail will be lost. You should consider using a copyright symbol © on your website as a reminder that your artwork is protected. For more information on copyrighting artwork visit the U. S. Copyright website.
4. You might consider joining a professional arts organization that offers assistance to artists who need legal help such as the Artists Rights Society or the Graphic Artists Guild or if you require legal advice check out the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and see if they can help.
5. And finally, your intellectual property is yours. Should you discover that a person has robbed your artwork send the offender an invoice for usage.
You might want to read the article Avoiding Copyright Infringement: When Has an Artist Infringed by Mark Monlux found at the Graphic Artists Guild’s website.
Good and bad things happen to artists, sometimes we win best in show and then other times it may feel as if we’ve won the booby prize for bad decisions. Share your experiences on your blog, who knows your words may protect a fellow artist from going through the same hard lessons you’ve learned.
Artists Rights Society: http://www.arsny.com/basics.html
What is Intellectual Property: http://www.wipo.int/about-ip/en/index.html
Graphic Artists Guild: An article by Mark Monlux that explains what to do if you find someone has infringed your rights: https://www.graphicartistsguild.org/tools_resources/artwork-infringement
(Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts) has a hotline staffed by law students and lawyers who can answer your legal questions. http://www.vlany.org/legalservices/artlawline.php
Victoria Rose Martin is an artist and designer currently living in South Florida. She is the Department Chair for Fine Art and Graphic Design at Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth, Florida. You can visit her website at: VictoriaRoseMartin.com.
For more about advice about finding reputable galleries and business concerns for artists, check out the 2013 Artist’s and Graphic Designer’s Market.
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