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Monday, June 11, 2012

The great online art heist

     I need to take a minute to talk about copyright and the worlds of social media and rescue. Over the last year I have been having many problems with people taking my images and using them to solicit funds and  to use in advertising. Just the other day one of my images came across my feed and someone had removed my own signature/web address from it. I have stopped posting images to Facebook because of this.. but, it does not have to be this way and I want to take a few moments to explain to those in rescue - anyone really - how stealing and destroying people's work does not only hurt those who have created it, but the animals that could be saved by the work.

     In case you do not know who I am- I am an artist. I have been involved in rescue for many years and my own house is full of dogs who are all my own rescues. I have an MFA in studio art (painting) and after grad school I decided to meld my love of art and pets and began working on a long term and ongoing project about shelter animals- this is the blog about that. (go way back to the start and you can see how it has evolved). In 2011, I posted one of my art images on Facebook for the first time.. in an attempt to save a life  - and it worked. However, since then I have come to realize that too many people online either are not educated or are just very shady when it comes to using copyrighted images for their own use. As an artist, my image is everything to me so I take it very seriously when someone steals my image.

     What has prompted me to write this is mainly about 2 images (there are more instances, but I am just going to focus on the two since they are all over the place right now). The first is actually the first shelter image that I ever posted to Facebook in an attempt to use my work to help save a life- this image has been stolen by multiple parties and used - the most commonly shared one being an ad for a business that I never gave permission to use the work. The other is an image that I created to be shared freely, yet someone has photoshopped my signature/website information off of it. Both instances are very upsetting to me and I want to use them as examples of how people need to be more careful about using images found online.

     The first image is in regards to the a photo I took of a dog in danger at the Miami Dade Animal Services in Miami, Florida. It was a great shot and the minute I got home I knew that I needed to try and use it to help her. I posted the image on Facebook and very quickly learned about tagging and crossposting and before long she was saved. It was all a very messy thing and I don't want to go into it all now, but in the end she was safe and I was so happy to have used my art to have been a part of it. Some time after I posted the image, I saw a photoshopped version of it come across my feed on Facebook. I saw on it the name of some business that I had never heard of. With a little investigative work, I found it was a woman who makes memorials for pets who have passed away and does some photoshop work. I contacted her and sent her a cease and desist letter. I had never given her - or anyone else- permission to use my image - she took it upon herself to steal my image and use it to create an ad for her business. Because of the way Facebook works, it is a year later and my stolen image is still appearing on posts. Facebook will remove it every time for me, but it has been shared thousands of times and I have no way to catch each and every one. She gets free advertising with every post and I do not back her work in any way shape or form.

     A person is acting illegally if they are taking another person's image to use in their advertising or to solicit funds without the approval of the copyright holder. I have seen this happen with other people's work as well. By using other people's images without their approval in advertising- logos - fundraising (yes, this includes chipins) they are not only stealing- but, setting themselves up for possible lawsuits. You MUST get approval.. if someone uses my image in a chipin without my approval- I do have the right to come after them. If you are in rescue -- if you are helping rescues be aware of this- understand the law. You can be sued.. and artists who see their work being abused most often just stop doing the work- who wants to share images if they are going to be ripped of and used to benefit others? We do this work to help the animals and not line the pockets of strangers. I have had rescues ask me to take specific pictures for them and I have gladly volunteered to do so- but, this image I have NEVER given a single person permission to use.

     The other image that I want to talk about is one of my dog Matisse. I used his image in an ad to promote adoption. I actually made a few ads, but the one with Matisse is especially important to me since he recently passed away after living a long wonderful life with me. I have had many dogs in my life, but he is by far the most special to me. So when I saw the ad cross my feed the other day I was, at first, happy to see it being shared- but, then I realized that someone had removed my signature website from it. They had removed my info from my own work. I was horrified. I sign each one of my ads with my web address a signature. It helps keep the work safe from being used in a manner like the first one I talked about- but, it also allows a way for people to find my work and see the shelter work that I do - and to contact me. Through that ad I have been contacted by many shelters and rescue groups. I tell each one that they are free to post and share the ad- even to print it- but, it may not be altered in anyway (that does involve ever removing my web address) and no money can ever be made from it.

     It is actually pretty horrifying for me to see someone remove me from my own work- especially on one with Matisse- and on a free ad nonetheless. I made it for free.. I made it to be shared, yet someone could not even keep their hands off of it??? So again I need to make people involved in rescue understand how harmful an action such as this truly is. I made art to help the cause- and I have basically been shit on. By continuing to disrespect work like this- you disrespect the person behind it. I have been making this art for years and I have spent countless hours and have gone broke doing it. What was done, in both cases, is so wrong. Animal rights - rescue people NEED people like me. We are the ones who take the time to make the images to help educate the public. If you continue to destroy what we do- to steal our work- why would anyone like me want to continue?

     As for me, I am not going to be posting my images to social media any longer. It hurts to say that, but my art is all I have- it is what I do. But, I cannot allow myself to be robbed by the very people who say that they want to save lives as much as I do.

     When you do post images- put your copyright all over them. People out there can and do take images and use them in fake fundraisers - so make it hard for people to do that. If you see someone using your work to advertise or raise funds- speak up. Rescues, if you see an image you like- find out who owns it and ask if you can use it and never give permission to use photos that you do not hold the copyright on. Most times people will be willing to allow you to use their photo. Just do it right. Do it legally and NEVER remove a person's signature or logo from their work unless they have given you written permission to do so. Artists, writers and photographers are a valuable resource in the world of rescue and animal rights- treat us right--don't drive us away. Please.

Below are the other TRUE ads that I had created to promote adoption. I have never asked a cent for them- they are NOT for sale. I made them to be shared. They are free to use and post as long as they are NOT altered - this includes adding any element- using them in any ads- or removing any element. They can also be printed and hung in any rescue or shelter- as long as they are unaltered and that NO money ever exchanges hands. They cannot be sold or used to collect money in any fashion. Any rescues who do print them and hang them- please send me a photo of my work in your shelter and I will post it on my site with a link to your rescue.

You can see more of my art at - please.. I am trying to make a difference- respect me for what I do- do not drive me away from continuing.