Online Artists Robbed of Their Work

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Time and time again, artists who display some of their work or portfolio on popular websites such as Instagram, Tumblr, or even Facebook, are setting themselves up for robbery. Visual Artists and Photographers are the common casualties of getting their work screenshotted, saved, and having the robber add his final touchups or tweaks in photoshop to declare that it is “his or her’s work.” It’s not.

The reason why this happens on these popular websites is because the artists or anyone whoever posts something cannot hold a rights reserved. Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr all own rights to whatever content is posted on each of the websites. Although, Tumblr is now allowing users to go through a process to copyright whatever content is posted. I applaud you Tumblr. As for Facebook or Instagram, videos, photographs, poems, or even memes can get tossed around from one share click to the next, without permission from the artist. Yes, memes are considered an artform now.

Someone asks me, “Why don’t the artists just watermark their artwork?” Here’s why. Watermarks are lame! Not just because of the fact that watermarks are lame, but they tend to be associated with the notion of having to pay more just to get the watermark removed. A lot of serious buyers will avoid work with watermarks. Someone asks me, “Well, why not use the watermark and not have the risk of getting work stolen at all?” Even if you use a watermark, people can still crop out the watermark and use a computer generated touch-up in the latest version of photoshop that will almost precisely generate the background, behind the watermark, that the artist made every time. “Why not have the watermark be slabbed on the entire piece of work on a separate layer and faded?” A simple spot healing brush and clone tool in photoshop is no match for the watermark. Let’s not get off topic. We are talking about ARTWORK, not stock images.

I share my works of contemporary photography on Instagram and Tumblr, and I have scrolled through the stream of postings on Tumblr, and have seen some of my photographs that have been posted by other accounts. NOT REBLOGGED, but posted as if they had been the ones to capture that photograph. I have even seen online magazines on Instagram that have stolen photographs without my permission. A lot of the times, I am not financially credited for my work. Artists have bills to pay too. I already don’t have the time or money for a lawyer to hunt for the person who hasn’t paid me the small sum of money. As far as I know, they live online.

When your work is online, you associate yourself with the shady side of art business. This is where it gets tricky. My friend Mikey Joyce is a renowned visual-glitch artist in Chicago and states, “I could talk your ear off about the countless times that I have been fucked over by people online.” Joyce claims that a lot of big named people in the music industry – their names are disclosed – that have pushed him to his artistic limits, creating and rendering many images and videos for these people, but once all of the possible options of artwork have been virtually spoonfed to these people, they just grab their favorite image or video for their music videos or an album cover, and leave Mikey in the dust, giving him no reimbursement. Some go as far as even blocking his phone number or his online profiles.

The online music industry has its downfall too. It’s even tough for producers to receive payment for the music that they produce for vocalists. My friend Owen Jones is a prominent musical artist and producer in Chicago. Jones claims that a lot of big-name rappers dig his music online via soundcloud, and often times, he goes to the studio to start working on production for them. With the business already discussed, Jones says he usually only asks for a small share of money as well as a repost from the rappers – their names are disclosed – on soundcloud, or even a simple shoutout on twitter. Simple, right? Wrong. Jones stated, “I send them solid beats that I worked hard on, and they just use it and go ghost on me.” In other words, the various buyers and collaborators have failed to meet their small portion of the deal, and again, another artist is left in the shadows.