It’s Not Only What Will It Be, But Where Did It Come From?

There has been some recent hoopla on the net regarding an artist who went public about several of her designs being copied (and it seems like they were) by a well known gift supplier. Any number of bloggers have posted their admiration and support for her bravery, and some big retailers actually cut ties with the gift supplier because of it. But there is a fly in the ointment – an art critic matched up the designs to several photographs widely available on the net, and they do match. Perfectly. And now people are researching her past work and matching some of that up to other photos…oops…

I am both amused and dismayed that so many artists who quickly ripped into the manufacturer have gone silent now that it has been revealed that the artist’s (un) original designs were traced, apparently without permission or attribution, from other people’s photographs. The infringing manufacturer’s position is indefensible, no question there – but so is that of an artist tracing copyrighted work and calling it their own. Nobody should get a pass here. And what of those other licensees with legitimate licensing agreements that are now looking at their product lines as potential infringements (against various photographers) and are waiting for the other shoe to drop? If it does those costs could be catastrophic.

There is no future in maintaining a “poor artists against the mean manufacturers” attitude, it will very quickly poison your relationships and ultimately your career. Here at Two Town we truly like the vast majority of the companies and people we work with and can count many good friends among them, and it seems I find myself advocating  consideration of the licensee side of things far too often because many artists automatically jump to the “manufacturers are bad” side of things. Yes, infringements do occur but the truth is you are way more likely to be ripped off by another artist than by a potential licensee.

There is a lesson to be learned here, and it’s an unpalatable one – in this biz of art and product licensing sometimes it IS all about the money, and that fact will pop up on either side of the equation. It can lead to hard knocks for sure, but you can usually duck them if you stay original, do your research, write good contracts and use your smarts.

2 replies
  1. Megan Duncansofn
    Megan Duncansofn says:

    The best commentary on the issue I’ve read so far, well said Jim. I think we have to be careful about what we say on the internet, it too often seems the easy way to call someone out, but as we all learned in this situation it backfired and the repercussions for the artist and manufacturer(s) could potentially be damning for all involved. A lesson for all of us to learn.


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