When Someone Steals Your Work
Well, this is awkward. Robin, an artist in Creative Juice discovered that one her card designs was in another person's Etsy shop. The exact artwork. No changes. Robin was alerted to the incident by another watchful artist who also had her art stolen by this same Etsy shop owner. Acting quickly, Robin reported the shop to Etsy and also contacted her lawyer, as well as contacting the shop owner herself.
She shared the screenshots in our private Facebook group asking for additional advice.
"Well it has officially happened to me. Someone has stolen my work and passed it off as their own on Etsy."
One of the many benefits to being in a group like Creative Juice, is that you've got people to discuss with, vent to and in this case rally for your cause. The artwork this woman was representing as her own is an exact copy. Not just an inspired version of a great idea, but a Photoshopped scan and re-placed on a new background of weathered wood copy. To see what was written in the description of the stolen card's Etsy listing was even more audacious: "This is an original, hand-painted watercolor card. I paint each one to order, so not one is alike!" Unbelievable.
The listing was removed after Robin's email to her, but there was a bigger offense here. It seems absurd for me to list the offenses, but just in case someone reading this is actually thinking of taking another artists' work and passing it off as their own original work, I'll take the time to list a few of them.
1. Don't take another person's work and pretend it's your own. It's illegal and unethical.
2. Don't lie to your customers and tell them that they are paying for something that they are not getting.
3. Don't ruin the reputation of a website that offers hand-crafted original works (like Etsy) by not offering original hand-crafted works.
4. If you are an artist, do your own work or keep practicing until you're good enough to sell your own work.
5. If you are not an artist but want to profit off another person's creativity and talent, pay them directly for the work.
Don't mess with Juicers
After seeing how blatant the deceit was, and knowing that this was not the first incident of stolen artwork for this shop, a few of us rallied and left some descriptive reviews on her Facebook business page. I left Ms. Shelby a one-star review on Facebook stating that she copied another artists' work and she responded with this message:
"Dear Margot, I saw your one star review on Facebook and wanted to respond to you directly, because I have been in communication with the artists whose works I had previously copied and have attempted to make it right. I realize a Facebook review would not normally illicit a direct response, but I honestly feel I should tell you the same thing I have told the artists I have talked to, because I don't want negative reviews to harm what I truly love to do - which is not to paint cards, but to paint houses and original pieces of artwork.
I have owned up to mistakes I made in the past by coping artwork, have given credit and have removed any selling of copied works, and also removed any photos of un-original artwork from this page. We're all human. I gave in to wanting to be 'relevant' versus actually making my own work. I have gone back and looked at any past sales of copied designs, and am giving 100% of the sales (not just proceeds) to those artists, because that's the least I can do.
I don't expect you to support me, but human-to-human, there's nothing I can do aside from learn from this and do my best to make it right, and to focus on my own artwork from here on out.
Please feel free to contact me directly if you would like to discuss further. I wish you all the best.
Many blessings, Shelby"
So I responded:
"Hi Shelby. I appreciate you reaching out to me. I find it really difficult to believe your efforts to "make it right" when you still have other artist's work in your shop for sale as your own work. All artists are "inspired" by each other and I can certainly understand an adaptation of a great idea. But I read your description of the card, which included false statements about how each one was going to be different because you make them by hand. That is calculated and purposeful deceit! Your customers should know that you are not honest in your talents and are not giving proper credit to other artists whose work you have stolen! I noticed another design that looked remarkably like something I saw on CreativeMarket.com which is not licensed for resale, by the way! My mission is to support artists, and if the house portraits are indeed you work, then you have some talent and you should be proud of that. Pull everything else. Now."
Also, don't mess with Robin
Robin is a stand-up gal in addition to being a phenomenal artist. After her initial contact with the Etsy shop owner, Robin received this saccharine response. Are you satisfied that this person is not going to do this again? There are a few tell-tale signs that tell me she still doesn't get it.
Here is Shelby's response to Robin:
Hang on, I just have to interrupt here to call this one out:
"I don't want you to spend any extra time or energy watching over me, because you have more important things to do (like creating beautiful watercolor art)."
What?! It's like a toddler saying, "Mama, you're so pretty. Look away so you don't see me take this cookie out of the jar."
"I truly could not remember which cards I had directly copied vs. which cards I drew inspiration from and made my own."
Girl, if you don't remember which cards you've created out of your own head and with your own paintbrush in your own hand, you'd better get out of this business. That's almost certifiable to me. But let's let her finish.
Nice attempt at humility and atonement, but I don't buy it. Since this is not her first offense, I'm truly disappointed that Etsy hasn't banned the shop completely but that's another blog post, I guess.
"When you steal someone's work, it's a huge punch to the gut."
Here is part of Robin's final response:
"When you steal someone's work, it's a huge punch to the gut. Because for some of us, it's a passion and we're lucky to be able to pursue that passion as a means to find income. So when you steal someone's work, you're messing with someone's livelihood. I've got a small baby at home, which I choose to support through my artwork. People who steal are just making it that much harder to pay the bills and put food on the table.
I don't want the money for the card, however, what I want is for you to make a public apology about the blatant plagiarism you've been doing. And while I didn't intentionally lead a charge of people to leave you 1 star reviews, just know that we all look out for each other and stand up for each other when this kind of thing happens. You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us. I hope one day that you can find a group like I have for support so you can find your path of not stealing and working hard like the rest of us to come up with things on our own."
I'm looking forward to that public apology. Of course, this is MY favorite part. :o)
"I hope one day that you can find a group like I have for support so you can find your path of not stealing and working hard like the rest of us to come up with things on our own."
What to do if your artwork is stolen
We all worry a little bit about putting our original artwork out into the webiverse for anyone to see and copy. This website is dedicated to calling out and helping artists when their artwork is stolen by other people and companies. There are some doozies on that site that would put even Shelby to shame.
1. Watermark and copyright your work.
2. Protect your content on Facebook and Instagram
There is an interesting watchdog setting in your Facebook and Instagram accounts, accessed here. It will not retroactively search your past content, but anything going forward will be checked against other content and you will get alerts is anything matches. It's worth a try.
3. Be vigilant
This incident was exposed because another artist was keeping watch on this Etsy shop. Once a new card was uploaded she did the detective work and found Robin. We need to watch out for each other and support honest business practices so that these people don't thrive under false pretenses.
4. Know your rights
Your work is copyrighted to you as soon as it exists in a tangible, public format. Read more about what is within your rights as an artist and how to protect your work even more here.
See more of Robin's amazing ORIGINAL artwork on her Etsy shop here.