Monday, April 12, 2010

Copyrights? Again?

So my wife tells me I'm beginning to be preachy. Some of my friends now look at me as though I am ringing a bell and wearing a huge placard that reads "The End Is Near!" whenever I mention the subject. I don't care. I feel that intellectual rights are in mortal danger right now. As I type this evil forces are gathering together, preparing for the next wave of attacks on our rights as creators. A little dramatic? Maybe. But it's true.

The other day a link was passed around on Facebook. Not one of those links shared by your friends and family but one of those links that are passed among industry professionals like top-notch illustrators, art directors, publishers etc. The link was to the blog of artist Chris Buzelli and the title of the post was "I need a web posse!". I recommend reading the blog for yourself but the short of the story is a guy that writes a blog for a CBS website used one of Chris' pieces as an illustration without permission, which as we all know is illegal. The thief goes through great lengths to defend himself. His various defenses include:
1. I gave credit so it's OK.
2. I'm doing the artist a favor by getting his work "out there" for potential clients to see.
3. It's covered under Fair Use clause of the Copyright Law.
4. It was a small image so that doesn't count as art.
5. It was the artist's fault because he didn't take the necessary precautions, i.e. watermark, disable right click-save as, etc., to prevent me from taking it.
6. I'm in a hurry to write so I can make money so I don't have time to ask for permission to use art or to find copyright free stock art.
7. Copyright laws are outdated therefore need to be broken.
8. I'm not making any money from it so it's OK...

...and there's more! He then writes an article teaching artists how to prevent their art from being used without permission! And after CBS chastises and publicly apologizes for his behavior he goes on to write two more articles on his personal site. One talking about how if it's OK to use art that is copyright free all art should be free and a suggestion on how to grant usage permissions for art online or some such nonsense. I stopped reading. But  the real education came from the comments left on his articles. Out of the literally hundreds of comments there have been less than 10 defending him. All have been trying to get him to see the error of his ways. The real heartwarming part is realizing that here is an issue that everyone that has a stake in agrees on! What do we agree on? Copyright laws are necessary for the protection of artists and creators. Period.

Before I go into my rant any further let me add this little anecdote.After reading about this for the first time I decided to run a little search for some of my stuff. So I go to which is a reverse image search engine. You type in an image URL or upload an image and TinEye will find other instances of that image on the web. It ain't perfect but it is getting better. And I have caught numerous art thieves in the act using this little gem, not just stealing my art but the art of others.

I do a search of my Color Zombie Sam. One of the hits is from a horror blog. I click the link and thinking I will find an article about me or my image or t-shirt as I stumble across from time to time I actually find a blog post in which the author is proclaiming the he is now on Twitter and everyone should follow him. My Zombie Sam is just stuck there. No mention of him. No link back to me. No mention of my name. Below is the cease and desist email I sent (identities have been altered because I do not believe in promoting those who steal from me):


Dear Mr. Doe
I, Billy Tackett, am the proprietor of all copyright in a artistic work entitled Zombie Sam 2 (The "Work"). I have reserved all rights in the Work, which was first expressed in material form on 2005 and can be seen in its original form at

It has come to my attention that you are displaying this Work in one of your blog posts http://insert_offending_web_page_here. Image is hosted here: http://insert_offending_image_url_here_webzombiesam2.jpg

Permission was neither asked nor granted to reproduce my Work and your Work therefore constitutes infringement of my rights. In terms of the Copyright Statutes, I am entitled to an injunction against your continued infringement.

In the circumstances, I demand that you immediately remove all infringing content and notify me in writing that you have done so.

Thank you for your cooperation.
Billy Tackett
Billy Tackett Studios
His (unexpected) reply:

You can stop with the legal mumbo jumbo Billy.  I wasn't trying to rip you off and I certainly wasn't making any money off your zombie image.  I came across that particular image online and really liked it.  That's it.  I also wanna repeat that my website is completely free and I HAVEN'T MADE ANY MONEY off your image.

The image of concern has been removed from my website on April 7, 2010 @ 2:10pm.

No offense was meant.
This response is coming from someone who 1. is a novelist, 2. is a fervent "supporter" of indie horror 3. displays advertisements on the offending blog. Which one of these should I tackle first? Since this is a post about copyrights let's do #s 1 and 3. Number 2 is a whole different issue that I will post about in the near future. 

I was amazed that here in two different instances with two different artists dealing two different image thieves in similar career fields (writing) with some of the exact same attitudes towards art. What the hell?? As a writer One would think that these two individuals would be a little more sympathetic to copyright laws. I mean the very same laws that protect their intellectual works also protects mine. Could it be that these guys just see themselves and their careers as a little better than us and ours? That would have to be it because they HAVE to know copyright laws. It's part of their jobs to know these things. Copyright laws are the one mighty weapon creators have against large unscrupulous companies and other ne'er-do-wells. They are our safety net. Copyrights laws are the reason I and others can put our art online. 

I have written about copyrights before. The first time was my feelings about image stealing that I won't re-hash here but if you want to read them go here
The second time was concerning artists as image thieves here

Here is my (restrained) reply to the offender:

As a professional artist whose images are stolen often the legal mumbo jumbo is an unfortunate necessity. I appreciate that you like my image but the facts are if you use my image without permission it is copyright infringement whether money is made or not. As a writer you should be appreciative to the intellectual rights of creators. I make my living from my art. People pay me to use my art. It isn't fair to them that you get to use it for free. Maybe you didn't make any money from it but you obviously saw some quality in it that made you want to associate it with you. It is my art, I own the copyright. That image is my trademark image. I get to choose how it is used. My art is free to view but not free to use.

Would you want someone to copy and paste your blog comment onto theirs without credit? 

Thanks for understanding.
Several weeks ago I posted an update on the Orphan Works legislation and got into a discussion with someone who was pro-Orphan Works. Their argument was that all information on the internet should be free for all. A noble ideal. But if everything belongs to everybody then that is really freakin' close to Communism. And we all know how that turned out. Plus I don't like to work my ass off just so someone else can enjoy the fruits of my labor. That, my friends, is bullshit. 

 "The information age is making all copyright laws obsolete. Digital information belongs to everybody. Open-source is the way of the future. Utopia is not far off. Unicorns are just around the corner. I poop rainbows." Bullshit. How do I know it's bullshit? Because very large companies, like Google, and very influential lawyers from very expensive universities, like Stanford, and highly paid lobbyists are fighting for the passage of the Orphan Works legislation (which will effectively render copyrights useless and allow free use of all art, in a nutshell). If there wasn't some way for someone to make money from our art they wouldn't be trying so hard. I think this is the fifth or sixth year in a row they have tried to get this passed. Our art has value to them, they just don't want to pay us. My art had value to this horror blogger, he just didn't want to pay me. 

The stars and rainbows commies think that the internets should be free needs to wake up. Nothing is free. The very large companies, like Google, will hire very influential lawyers from very expensive universities, like Stanford, and highly paid lobbyists to figure out a way to make money from it. Making money is what makes the world go 'round. It's the modern day version of hunting and gathering. It's survival. I need to make money to live. I do that by making art. I put the art online. You can look at it for free but if you want to use it you have to pay me for it. So the internets is free after all ;-) 

And don't give me shit about be a capitalist schmuck! Artists have been making money from their art since the dawn of civilization. In ancient times artists, sculptors and the like were held in high regard. Right up there with high priests and physicians. And art was an industry right up until the mid-1800s when some dumbasses decided to propagate the whole idea of art for art's sake. True, I love making art so much that I would still do it if I didn't make money from it but I can make money from it! And I will. And I don't feel bad for it. Carpenters do it. Mechanics do it..make money from doing something you're good at and love doing, that is. 

The whole money making issue aside, if our art becomes free for anyone to use that means it becomes free for anyone to use...for any purpose. Take my Zombie Sam for instance (everybody else does ba-da-boom!), when I painted I had a specific idea in mind behind the painting. My own motivations for doing it. Mainly I love America and I love zombies. I am very patriotic by the way. If copyrights are done away with I would have no say in who uses this image for what purpose. So our local KKK could use this on their website to further their cause. Or some local faction of Al Qaeda could use it in their propaganda. Or any number of people or groups that I wish to have absolutely no connection with whatsoever could use it. Bullshit.

And just because someone isn't making money with my art doesn't mean I'm not. And I reserve the right (there's that word again," right") to do so. And if that someone is allowed to use my art for free it really isn't fair to those that actually pay to use it. But copyrights just don't pertain to money. Copyrights are just what they sound like, the rights to make copies. Money doesn't factor into copyrights unless a lawsuit is filed against an infringer.

The pro-Orphan Works person told me "If I ever created anything of value I would give it away for free". I'm not against giving your shit away for free. After all, it is your shit and you get to decide who does what with it. I love free shit, myself. Open-source software rocks. I use a couple programs myself. But don't begrudge me because I don't give my shit away. 

I hear people bitch about Metallica. "They lost so much street cred when they took Napster to court. Corporate douchebags!" Why? Because they expect to get paid for services rendered? Why shouldn't some really talented guys make money from doing what they do best? Fortunately the musicians have the music industry behind them. We artists are not lucky enough to have an entire multi-billion dollar industry fighting for us. True, we don't have to deal with the corporate greed but it would be nice to have some very well paid lawyers at my fingertips.

When it comes down to it we just want to get paid for our hard work. We aren't divas. We aren't jihadists, nor are we drama queens and kings or cry babies. We don't want to use the "legal mumbo-jumbo" but because our rights aren't being respected we have to. We are in a struggle. I feel we are on the verge of some major changes. I just want to make sure the changes are for the best. And what is best for the artist is best for the arts. If the internet becomes a free-for-all copyright free stock image provider we professional artist will take our images down. That isn't some threat. It's what will happen. Once we're gone all you will have to choose from is half-assed anime fan-art by seventh grade special ed students and none of us want that.


Connie Faye said...

you should just send a DMCA form to his ISP. Works every time. I've had entire sites shut down because someone's theiving my work.

billy tackett said...

He took it down. Begrudgingly but it's down. His ISP is Blogger, which is owned by Google. They are very slow to remove infringed art unfortunately. And of course they are one of the ones behind the Orphan Works legislation. After a while patterns start to show themselves...

PhilipR said...

To those that say you are preaching, I say "Preach on, Billy, preach on!"

Sadly most of the people clamoring for all this copyright free art are people the legislation won't effect or the very people who want to pirate the art to begin with. Also I've worked with a large number of (as well as being close friends with some) writers. Most all of them understand the danger of "orphaned work". Every smart "writer" should know that its pictures today but it could be words tomorrow.

billy tackett said...

Phillip, the authors I know are aware of the dangers as well. What happens to one creative could happen to the rest so we're all in this together. And when an author thinks it's OK to steal art that tells me they wouldn't be above plagiarism...

Emily said...

After recently landing my first major commission with requests for run of prints (my first print run ever!!!) The issues of copyright and internet image stealing is fast becoming a large concern of mine. I've always been against the Orphan Works legislation, and issues with Facebook's TOS have kept me from posting any of my art on the site directly. Now, with my first foray into the world of doing art for a living, this issue has become MUCH more personal. I'm really happy you posted about this issue, as it really clarifies a lot of questions I had before.

billy tackett said...

Emily, congrats on the print run. When art becomes a source of income copyright infringement takes on a more serious quality.

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