Thursday, May 20, 2010

Going Pro: copyright in the new digital world

In the past few posts of Going Pro, we've looked a lot at copyright. Again, a lot of people have opinions, but it's important to see what the legal definitions -and what steps you can take to protect your creations- really entail.

Today though, I want to propose a question.

Suppose you post a nifty image of a prehistoric critter online. It's awesome, you're proud, people give you kudos. You put it under a Creative Commons Licence, the most restrictive one that says your image a) must be attributed to you, b) cannot be altered, c) others cannot profit from it, and otherwise, it's okay to post and share.

1. Then someone copies it. Another blogger. Does their own riff. Are you okay with that?

2. What if they're more famous than you, getting lots of illustration gigs, but they notice it, do their own version, and give you a nod for your cool idea. Still excited, feeling the attention?

3. What if your painting happens to hit the zeitgeist and goes all viral all over the interwebs. Everyone is sharing it. There's a day on Facebook where all the users switch to you image. But you haven't made a dime. What do you do?

We're in interesting territory. Personally, I don't believe overly restricting images (insanely huge watermarks, disabling right-clicking) are helpful to make a successful career anymore. But neither is completely open sharing.

Consider this:

[h/t Boing Boing]

It makes a strong case about question number 3, doesn't it? But how do you capitalize on that image going viral? How does it put food on the table?

I suggest it's how you parlay that viral dinosaur image into getting new contracts.

As for questions number 1 and 2, consider the post-modern, remixed, mash-up, variant-cover culture we live in. Think an Indiana Jones video game is fun? What about Indiana Jones Lego! Like Batman? Sharks? Lightsabers? Ta-da! (artist here) Authoring mash-ups and riffing on others' work is an integral part of pop culture.

Painting gets started at about the 4 minute mark in the video above.
[h/t to Boing Boing, again]

In the past, I've sometimes been the dissenting voice here at Art Evolved about all those posts showing past-art about upcoming themed galleries. I dislike them because sometimes attribution to the artwork cannot be easily found - though yes, as Peter and Craig have pointed out to me, sometimes we attribute an "orphan image" after the post goes up when a reader identifies it.

I'm uncomfortable with those posts because in a world of remixes and fun Photoshopped images, attribution and authorship can sometimes be your only coins to bank on. Literally.

Everyone has different comfort zones. Where do you feel comfortable with your images on questions 1-3 above?

-Glendon Mellow


Traumador said...

will comment tomorrow promise. just got back from the funeral... very tired, it was a LONG day!

Brett said...

"2. What if they're more famous than you, getting lots of illustration gigs, but they notice it, do their own version, and give you a nod for your cool idea. Still excited, feeling the attention?"

This is a little vague to me, do that eventually put an "After so and so" on the piece? Or is it more they saw your art and liked it and then decided to rip it? The first is OK in my book, the second.... that's stealing.

I've actually had similar things happen, for some reason people don't think it's wrong to copy (or in some cases trace) others artwork. Usually an email will get them to stop, usually.



Brett said...

Ugh! that should say "do they eventually..."


Glendon Mellow said...

I agree, Brett. Giving you props is cool in most cases, unless the work was done exclusively for a client. Ripping it off...not so cool.

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Interesting territory indeed.

To start off with, good pick on the Batman sabering a Shark! I remember laughing hard when that badboy hit the comic boards. (I think it is a different kettle of fish, as Batman and Jedi are both big corporate entities these days, that transcend any one artist).

I think I'm going to have to put up a quick going pro post with a few stratigies I've found to protect my work from misuse, as outlined in my response to question #1

Here are my answers to your questions (the quick version)

1. I've now had this come up in a few places myself. So long as the text accompanying my piece (all palaeo-art) was of a scientifically sound nature I let it go. Especially as the posts were a couple months old by the time I found them, and weren't getting tons of traffic.

The one case this was not acceptable, and I had to take further action, was when I found one of my Mosasaurs on a creationist site going on about the Leviathian being a Mosa or a Dunky. The Dunky was from a BBC show, but the Mosa in question was one of mine. I was flattered they thought my piece high enough quality to include with a professional TV show's critter.

However the text was completely against the philosophy and aim of my work. More to the point it could be bad for business if anyone actually linked that art back to me. As it would get my name associated with creationism, whether I wanted to be or not.

I someday wish to have my work used in scientific publications. Therefore I have a "brand" to maintain. The average science friendly palaeo blog, or even a normal blog that happens to have a one off post about dinos, using my pics (even without credit) is fine. It is when the text or use of my picture is running countray to one's aimed reputation the use should become an issue.

2. That would be great. The best form of flattery is imatation, and someone higher up the food chain giving you a nod can only have good consequences down the line.

3. That copying video was cool, and sums up a lot of my take on digital medium. For small scale use I think image copying is okay (but this is also my teacher instincts kicking in. We are trained to copy stuff as our job, as otherwise we'd have no materials to use with our kids).

It does raise some interesting issues for us the creators of content though. As if we don't get paid we don't create content.

One of the things about the digital age I've noticed that works against us all is that there is now no shortage of people who want to be those content makers. The net lets us all get our material out on an international scale. Which economically means the supply is so high it is taking the (paying) demand down. Why pay one particular artist to make stuff when I can go to these 5 others who put stuff up for free.

Currently as one of those 5 artists I don't know what the solution is, nor how to get out of the wannabe pack...

davidmaas said...

Well, blowmeshivers. What do you think I'm frequenting this site for if not to snatch up all the groovy ideas! Brett's groovy feather spikes, Craig's puppetry, Nima's beastie blueprints... they're mine! All mine!
I'll try to contribute something sensible shortly, you all may have noticed I've been ... submerged lately.
This all fits in with my view of what paleo-art is, because we're all so heavily engaged in taking by the nature of what we do... the artist from artists and scientists, the scientists from scientists and collectors, collectors from collectors and nature.
Drawing the line of plagiarism is difficult enough in fantasy formats such as concept art.

Glendon Mellow said...

Craig, a lot of scientific illustrators will tell you it's time to circle the wagons and not be one of the 5 who do things for free. Never do things for free.

Me? I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Never make original content for someone else for free. Perhaps, on rare occasion when you can see a direct benefit, allow someone to use an image from your back-catalogue for free.

I put work I do for myself under Creative Commons Licence, but that only allows digital sharing. I don't want them printed in a book or magazine without permission.

Excellent points about the creationist misuse.

davidmaas said...

"I put work I do for myself under Creative Commons Licence, but that only allows digital sharing. I don't want them printed in a book or magazine without permission. "

Which was fine until about 3 weeks ago. Glendon, what if 1) eReaders take over knowledge publication (as they are doing) and 2) they aren't app but web-based (which there will at least be options)? Your above statement becomes a contradiction, or at least, an unenforceable dichotomy.

Glendon Mellow said...

You make a good point David: technology and behaviour are rapidly developing and shifting.

However, the Creative Commons Licence I use (see above) also states other parties may not profit from it. If a Kindle or similar device is browsing online, it would be cool. If they lifted a painting to illustrate an article, that's not cool as specified by the licence. I think that covers it.

Peter Bond said...

My views: 1) I am cool with copying, as long as the works are attributed to the artist. I also agree with Craig's context-is-important point.

2) Again, if the famous artist is running with your idea, then they should be mentioning you somewhere as inspiration.

3)Viral spread of your image would lead to millions of people seeing your work, leading to excellent exposure (so long as you are credited with the piece (rare, but take the Obama HOPE poster for example...but be sure it's your own work!)

Glendon, would you be able to shed some light on the copyright controversy behind the Obama poster and the artist's use of Google Image Search?

Glendon Mellow said...

It's true Peter, that exposure can be a good thing - but only if it isn't the only thing. An image going viral won't put food on the table or pay rent.

I'm no expert on the Obama copyright case. There are three main issues to consider in my opinion.
1. Obama's right to his own likeness may be largely understood to be kind of public, as celebrity and politician likenesses are (and why the Vatican trying to claim copyright on the Pope's image is a bit silly).
2. The right the photographer had to their image.
3. The derivative nature of the work: how changed is changed? Most of us have never seen Obama in person, so all new images created of him (or, say a T-rex) will be based on other images of him.

It's a sticky situation. Did the illustrator even earn anything from that viral image?

Traumador said...

based on the number of online poster shops that sell prints of it, i'm assuming he has made some money from it from at least a few of them...

i do know because of his "i believe" poster, stephen colbert hired him to create the olympic "defeat the world" poster for vancouver.

Glendon Mellow said...

"based on the number of online poster shops that sell prints of it, i'm assuming he has made some money from it from at least a few of them...

Right, so there's potentially some lost revenue to the original photographer. However, again this isn't George Lucas protecting the image of R2D2 or some other intellectual property: it's photos of a real person and public figure.

This complicates the issue quite a bit, in my mind.

Peter Bond said...

The Obama artist took the photograph of Obama from Google Images and simply altered the colours. Are both the original photograph and the altered image both separate individual pieces of art? Where should the profit flow?

Should the artist have credited the photographer?

This is indeed a complicated issue.