Last Wednesday May 25th 2016 I woke up to an artists worst nightmare. I had been tagged in a comment by my client because he had found an illegal use of my artwork. The above image (without my watermark) had been included in an album of work which the poster claimed had been done by an Indian Artist with no hands. The client who alerted me to the post had commissioned the piece as a gift for his wife (pictured in the portrait). They have yet to receive the artwork but unfortunately both of them saw this illegal post and were rightfully very upset by it. Seeing as I'd spent almost a year of my life working on this piece I was upset too.
At first I didn't panic, I had this issue with other artists claiming my work a few times in the past and usually with a bit of coercion from myself and my loyal and caring fans the poster will remove the copyright material. But this time would be much worse. Because of the inspiring nature of the story (an artist creating such spectacular works without hands) the album containing my painting was re-posted again and again and again by multiple pages, some even newspapers! It seemed that no matter how many posts my fans and I managed to get down, more and more kept popping up.
It was a rough day but in the end I think a lot of positive came out of it ...
1) I discovered not all of these pages meant harm
A lot of the pages, once they received my comments and messages, were very apologetic and explained that it was a mistake. They'd either been given the content to post or they simply saw the story and re-posted it seeing it as inspirational. Many of them did admit that they should have checked the validity of the post before using it but perhaps that's a lesson learned for next time.
2) I learned how to combat illegal uses of my artwork
One of these kind pages got in contact with me about the viral nature of the issue, directing me to other pages that had posted it, but most importantly showing me how to report ALL of the links I could find in one shot. I'd been reporting one link at a time and so, due to the number of reports I sent in, I'd been banned from reporting half way through the day. It was so stressful because I already felt like I couldn't keep up with the viral nature of the post. Thanks to this page I found out how to report as many as I could find all at once and after a full day and evening I felt like I had it under control.
Here's the form https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/208282075858952
3) I received a bit of exposure as a result
Some of these kind pages also offered to post a collection of my artwork with proper credit in order to clear up the misconception and promote my work.
4) I learned just how many caring fans I have
One of the most important things I learned is that there are quite a few of my fans out there who are willing to dedicate time, energy, and emotion to helping me when I'm in a jam like this! You have no idea how heartwarming that is. I know that I did loose a lot of fans that day, which is a shame. I don't often post things that aren't inspiring and positive but I was in desperate need of help. Those who left might come back and if not they're not important. What's important is the love and support that I felt that day. Thank you SO much to all who did their best to help me. It really means the world to me.
Some folks tried to be supportive by offering an opinion on what I might have done wrong. Many of them suggested I should have put watermarks on my work. The thing is I do watermark all of my online images with my website in a bottom corner. Whoever had posted the original incorrect collection of artworks by the Indian Artist with no hands clearly cut it out of the image. After explaining this I would get the inevitable, "You should put the watermark right across the middle of your work". I know these people only had my best interest at heart and offered this opinion with the best of intentions but it's kind of a silly thing to suggest to an artist who's been working for 7 years. Like I'd never considered this before? I have thought it over very well and I will never post watermarks through the middle of my works. It's ugly, it's distracting, and I just plain and simple won't do it. I've learned over the years that artwork WILL be posted online without any marks anyways and if people really want to get them they will. When you upload to your print shop they have to be un-watermarked. When you're being featured online most sites require un-watermarked images. So it's going to happen anyways. Yes, I want people to know it's my work so I put a little website in the corner which isn't the prettiest but at least it's not overly distracting. I simply will not hinder the viewing experience of my loyal followers because a handful of dishonest people might misrepresent me or use my work without my permission. I weighed the pros and cons years ago and I won't do it. Every artist is entitled to their opinion and I wouldn't judge someone for wanting to watermark through their work, but I won't do it even after this disaster. Because in the end I'd rather fight injustices as they arise and reward my loyal fans with beautiful photos of my work rather than disappoint my online following to protect myself from the occasional threat.
I also want to mention that some folks felt offended that I would even mention that the Indian Artist has no hands. "What does his disability have to do with your privilege?" some said. Nothing!? That wasn't the topic at hand. I was simply stating the facts of the situation, that my work was being passed off as the work of an Indian Artist with no hands. That's the headlining story that my work was connected with and it's false. It's the false representation of my work and the credit given to another artist (regardless of having hands or not) that was upsetting. We live in a socially and politically correct world right now and I absolutely love that but some folks are just looking for a battle. I want to be clear, the Indian Artist with no hands Dhaval Khatri is absolutely incredibly talented and truly inspiring. His work is gorgeous and I know that this misrepresentation was not his fault. I wish him lots of success in his career. :)
It was indeed a debacle but in the end everything worked out and I was reminded once again of how many kindhearted caring followers I have. I am truly blessed in so many ways. Thank you again to everyone who cared, helped, and sent me positive vibes. It is greatly appreciated.
BONUS ~ The importance of posting progress and multiple close ups/angles of your artwork.
I was able to prove to Facebook that the above image was indeed my copyright material because I had an existing album (published long before the viral post) of my artwork and many close ups. I also had progress photos and videos of me working on the piece. I know many artists find posting all of these too time consuming but having all of this up made the mess easier and much quicker to solve.