Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It's Time to Help the Artists We Love – Shut Down the Thieves

By Jerry Chandler

Okay, this isn’t part of the Halloween specials we’re running this month, but we can sort of dress it up a bit. I’m going to use two examples of horror themed art here, a “horror fan” website, and the idea that we can give ourselves a nice treat by jamming up some jerks with a nasty trick.

Over the last few years there’s been a noticeable movement by fandom and convention owners to shut down rip-off artists and thieves who are lining their pockets by making copies of the work of real artists and selling them as their own work. We’ve seen guys like Rob Granito, Joseph Bayer, MattWalker, and others confronted at and even removed and banned from conventions for selling other people’s art as their own under the argument that they’ve “interpreted” the original artwork to a degree that they can claim a level of fair use and call it their own. 

Many fans have rightly seen this as total bunk and many conventions are rightly removing them from their premises. Thing is, they’re not even the worst offenders out there right now, and that’s where all of you come in.

There are a number of websites out there with a social media presence that are basically just stealing from artists. T-shirts are a big thing on these sites. You can see that the artwork I used for the header is a t-shirt ad. The artwork used was created by Mark Maddox- a name that should be familiar to Needless Things and Earth Station One podcast listeners. If you go back up and look carefully at the screen cap of the ad, you’ll notice that his name is nowhere to be found. Additionally, if you look at the photo below, you’ll notice two things.

#1- If you look over their ad, you’ll notice the name of the artist, Steve Jencks, is absent from their promotional hype. Further, if you were to follow the link to the website they’re using to print their shirts you’d find it missing there as well.

#2 – These guys are lazier about the artwork they’re illegally using than the guys who are getting banned from conventions. All they did with the Mark Maddox artwork was make the artwork black and white. With the Steve Jencks artwork, they used it with almost no noticeable alterations at all.

Now- just in case you’re curious –we’ll eliminate the idea that it’s just an assumption on my part of lack of participation by the artists in these endeavors.

When the Mark Maddox print shirt showed up I recognized the artwork. It was easy to do seeing as how I’m a fan. I made a very polite post on their Facebook page. I made no accusations, I just asked a question. I asked them if Mark was involved in the deal with the t-shirt since it was his art. Oh, I also tagged Mark when I did it since we’re friends on Facebook. Their response was to immediately delete my post and block me from being able to post on their page. I took that as an answer decidedly in the negative. They had the same response to anyone else who posted Mark’s name in that thread- tagged or not tagged.

I shared their post- tagging Mark again -with a warning to everyone to not buy the shirt as this was a rip-off and the artist was not being paid. Several people I know connected to the Dragon Con Horror Track and to Gruesome Magazine likewise started spreading the word on social media. A short time later I also saw that people connected to Monsterama and several other horror themed conventions that have had Mark as a guest had been spreading the word. I’m sure many others were as well.

In the case of the artwork by Steve Jencks, I recognized it- because, again, I’m a fan –and contacted the artist through Facebook to inquire about whether he was involved with this or not and if he would be receiving any money from it. He responded rather quickly by saying that he was not, and that he was now attempting to get them to cease the unauthorized use of his artwork.

Look, I like t-shirts like these as much as everyone else does, but I like the artists who are doing the artwork more than I like a piece of cloth with poor quality print of their artwork on it; especially when the people selling it aren’t paying a dime to the artists who worked for hours and days on the artwork. That’s theft. They are stealing the artwork of the men and women who work long and hard at creating the artwork we love to look at to profit themselves while giving nothing to the artist. It’s practically the same as stealing money directly from the artist.

So what can we do about it? It’s simple really, and it involves just six easy steps. 

1) If you see social media sites selling shirts, prints, or other items with someone’s artwork on it and no credit given to the actual artist- be suspicious. If the artist has any sort of name whatsoever, they’d be using it as a selling point. Hold off on buying it. 

2) If you don’t see the artist’s name on it or you do but it looks dodgy; try to find out if it’s legit. Ask the same type of question I did on their page. If they delete and block you, you’ve probably been given a pretty strong clue that the thing isn’t authorized and the artist isn’t getting a dime. If they answer you but the answer seems dodgy? Move to step three. 

3) If at all possible, contact the artist. Include a link and ask them if it’s a legitimate product that they authorized. If they tell you it’s not, don’t buy it. 

4) If the artwork catches your eye and you don’t know who it belongs to; do a reverse image search through Google or ask some of your friends if they recognize it. If you find out that it is indeed the work of an artist who is being ripped off by some jerks on the internet, move on to step five. 

5) Buy the print from the artist or find out if they have a deal with someone selling shirts where they will get the cut of the profits they deserve for doing the work in the first place.

In many cases, it won’t cost you that much money. It might in fact cost you less. I’ve bought art prints from Mark Maddox and others at various conventions. For the same amount of money (or less) than what these rip-off websites are selling their stuff for, you can get a much better looking print directly from the artist, you will have paid the artist, and you can even get a nice autograph on the artwork. Trust me; it looks great up on the wall. Other than that, move on to step six. 

6) If you find a page like this on social media ripping artists off- report the posts and report the pages. Just like fans and convention owners are making it harder for these guys to sit in an artist’s alley across from the very same artists they’re ripping off, fandom should be making it harder for these thieves to rip off artists behind their backs.

These people depend on social media to make their scam merchandise sales reliably profitable. They depend on using social media as a tool to get high volume sales numbers fast before pulling the evidence and moving on to the next rip-off. Take their easiest to use tools away and it becomes too much work for many of them.

This doesn’t just apply to the artists who work with visual media. There are websites out there ripping off writers and musicians as well, and not just the ones who have had longtime careers as pros. They’re out there ripping off guys who are newer on the scene and struggling to make it as well.

Fandom has been taking the right steps to correct this problem on the convention scene. Fandom should also be taking steps to correct this problem wherever else they see it. Stop giving money to thieves ripping off the artists whose work we all love, start making sure that the money goes to products that pay the artists, help shut these clowns down, and spread the word to others to start doing the same.

Jerry Chandler is a serious horror geek with a lifelong love of trying to find books and movies that can scare the spit out of him. When not watching and reading horror, he can sometimes be found helping to make horror with his filmmaking family in NCAdrenalin Productions. He loves Halloween slightly more than Christmas, and almost as much as Dragon Con. When not writing here, he can be found at his other homes on the web by looking at his own blog, his Twitter, and his Facebook.

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