What Does An Artist Do When Her Intellectual Property Is Stolen


It is now day three after my discovery that several of my images have been copied, mass produced and sold to various large retailers in North America and the UK.   I’m still in a state of shock and I haven’t slept more than three hours since this nightmare began.   I’ve been getting many emails from people reporting the various places where they have spotted these knock offs- some people even had assumed that I had created lower level versions of my own work to mass distribute.  I even drove out to one of the stores today and purchased the knock off version of my ‘Dancers‘ painting with my own money and took a picture of myself with it as I don’t know what else to do.

So far we have had some cooperation from a couple of the retailers that were carrying the copies and they appear to have been unaware of what they were carrying.  Product has been removed from their websites and stores and will be destroyed we have been assured.   But the distribution of my images is much more widespread than I could have imagined and there are still no answers and no clear route as to how to handle it.   The actual manufacturers of the product are in the Far East- likely China but we are not being told who exactly is behind it.   I want to know and I feel I have a right to know who has been manufacturing my work and selling it to distributors and likely making a tidy profit off of it.  It’s not me. I haven’t seen a penny and I likely will never get any compensation for this.   If anything I will likely have to pay a lawyer at some point to try and get some answers.

I feel as if someone has broken into my home and stolen from me but I can’t call the police- can I?   Who protects artists and writers whose intellectual property has been taken from them that don’t have the financial resources to investigate it?  But most importantly, how can I stop it?  For all I know these people are continuing to manufacture copies of my work and sell them to a whole new batch of retailers and the whole nightmare will continue on.





42 Responses to “What Does An Artist Do When Her Intellectual Property Is Stolen”

  1. Just had another look at your Dancers painting. Can instantly see that it is far, far superior to the knock off version. Do hope this is resolved soon and to your complete satisfaction.

  2. My advice would be get a lawyer. He/she can write a cease and desist letter and perhaps get the details of those manufacturers. I agree, the retailers probably, or at least in most cases, don’t realise they are selling copied goods. Assuming you get a lawyer and this gets sorted out, you should be able to claim for the costs incurred as well. Good luck?

  3. Definitely get a lawyer. My initial instinct was to say that (I think) the FBI investigates knockoffs, but since you’re in Canada, I don’t know how it works.

  4. Kristina Henning

    I am so sorry to hear this happened to you! I have been a huge fan of your work for years and have been lucky enough to purchase several of your prints (from you) on Etsy. I truly hope you are able to this resolved quickly!

  5. What a nightmare Janet—so sorry for you troubles! Have you contacted CAFAC http://www.carfac.ca ? Maybe they would be able to guide you in how to go about dealing with this legally. Janet– Lori McNee (an artists as well) had a similar problem happen to her. She has a very informative blog–I believe she wrote a post on what she did–maybe you could email her so she could give you the link to the info she posted. I looked, but could not find it. http://www.finearttips.com/ Good Luck and I hope you get to the bottom of this —-I know it must be very upsetting!

    • oops a couple of typos on my message Janet–maybe you could fix them before you okay my message–thanks!

  6. Surely this is criminal and there is legal recourse for those who STOLE your images. I, too, encourage you to seek legal assistance. You possess a wonderful talent that is unique to you that no one else could dulicate honorably. Good luck in seeking to end this nightmare!

  7. I’ve bought from you for many years now on Etsy and I’m saddened to hear this. I feel for you, and understand you feel like a thief has come in the night and robbed you. Thoughts are with you.

  8. Ask the stores for information about the distributor of it. Then call the distributor, who should be cooperative, since he’s on the hook for copyright infringement. Any place that doesn’t stop carrying them, or won’t tell you their source, call the RCMP about counterfeit goods. Sale or possession of counterfeits is illegal, but I’m not sure how helpful the RCMP will be. If they are not so helpful, make sure to speak with a lawyer.

  9. Colleen Pola

    You must seek legal representation of some sort. It’s a shame that the wronged party always has to pay the price but for your future sales and reputation internationally you have to find a way to shut down the thiefs. Shame on them!!!!!

  10. I’m an Etsy buyer of your beautiful work. It makes me so angry to hear this. I just wanted to say, as furious as you are, please make sure you are taking care of yourself. You are going through so much mental stress right now, and it’s turning into physical stress. Stay strong, be kind to yourself and get the b*****ds.

  11. My heart goes out to you. “Go get ’em” Janet. And the rest of us each need to educate, educate, educate our consuming friends. I find people do not even know where art comes from anymore. They think imagery comes from the internet or licensing and “Designers” get credit for products we buy. So much work is out there without mention of an artist! (If you look on Etsy people are more likely to credit a fabric artist than an illustrator/painter whose image is reproduced on their journal/collage/wooden box/ whatever. Bad customer training!) Hope we can all do our part to make his stop.

  12. Janet,
    I don’t have a great answer to this question, but wanted to add my support to your post. It makes me sad that anyone would go so low as to do something like this. It’s actually disturbing and capitalism at its nastiest. What you do is beautiful. Keep heart.
    I will be thinking of you and hoping that a solution can be found.


  13. Kelly Coleman Coursey

    Janet, How horrible this must be for you! I would feel completely violated by whoever is responsible for this. I am also an Etsy artist and I have had this fear ever since I put my paintings out there. So much of our personal creativity goes into art that it is a true crime to have it stolen from us. Your art is so wonderfully unique and it really out shines that copy. I hope you find the source and stop them from doing this to others! Best wishes, Kelly

  14. Jennifer bailey

    Janet, I am so, so sorry to hear this has happened to you and your beautiful art! I am shocked and saddened that someone, entity, company, etc. would do this. Please know there are so, so many fans of your art that support you.

  15. Hi Janet,
    It’s very upsetting to find out how easily copying can be and how vulnerable we are to it. That is why we artists have to protect ourselves. As a professional photographer I know this issue all too well. I recommend you seek out and join, an Artists Guild or …Professional Artist Business Association ….which provides you with copyright information, forms, addresses where to file a copyright if you haven’t already and fees so that you can get officially copyrighted.

    The government handles this process so it’s very official and you can really go after the scoundrels who did this. These Artist Business Associations also provide assistance in such a case. To see a photography version of such an agency go to …apanational.com… then enter and go to business manual, on the left. There you will see at the bottom of the lists with titles…public files. In that list there are several ‘ recommended copyright reading’. There are surely artist business organizations of this sort. I even get a publication which addresses these issues.
    The gov. is making registering an image more expensive so it makes it undesirable, but on the internet you aren’t protected otherwise.

    China is famous for this, by now the pros should be getting pretty good at catching them. There are 1000’s of copyright infringement cases going on between China and everywhere, so you are not alone.

    Here is a link to an artist business association called ARTISTS HELP NETWORK which looks quite extensive. It has good resources for you and help, I think for free even, I am not sure about that. In the pro photo world when you belong to a professional organization, legal help is part of your membership and the annual fees are not outrageous.


    and in case the link does not work the address is http://www.artisthelpnetwork.com they have copyright info, forms and legar resources. There are many versions of this type of organization out there, but you want a really professional one.

    My heart goes out to you, it’s devastating to have your artwork stolen and see someone trying to make a profit from YOUR work.

    You can get to the bottom of this, the retailers have to disclose their sources, especially when you have a legal organization behind you and copyright registered with the US government. The internet might be good for stealing art work but it’s also good for getting the word out on stores who sell copyright infringed artwork.

    Are you and your husband and dog feeling any better? I hope you are no longer at 30% so you have energy to tackle this.
    Your work is beautiful and precious and no clown can take away from that no matter how hard the try.

    Sending you strength,
    Pascale, from Vintage to Live By/ Etsy

  16. This is not good news for you. It seems the issue is quite widespread. Unfortunately the internet is a way in which artists can share their images and designs. The anonymity of the internet allows anyone to visit an artists website, copy their work and then sell it off as their own without anyone realising it until it’s too late. I would hope the stores would tell you who sold the products to them but it is likely their contracts with the distributor might prevent them from disclosing this. Your lawyers might have to issue legal proceedings against the stores that were selling your images to force them to disclose who they obtained their product from. I realise this exercise is not going to be a cheap exercise but even taking a few legal steps to show the stores that you are serious about this might make them work with you to give you the information you need. Given the wide number of stores that are carrying the illegal images it is very likely that the company or person who arranged for your images to be stolen, reproduced and then sold to various stores has quite some money behind them. I wish you great courage during this challenging time.

  17. Janet,

    I am so very sorry you are dealing with this! How some people can sleep at night (meaning the crooks!) boggles the mind….

    Years ago I had a gallery steal a large number of my art work and I was able to get an attorney at no charge through a local arts organization….you may be able to get a good referral that way and perhaps to someone who would take this on pro bono…..

    These thieves know how expensive and time consuming it is to enforce copyright…it is such a great shame.

    Hang in there…try to sleep and take good care of yourself as this is likely to be an ongoing process….

    All the best to you…

  18. Janet, your work is beautiful! I so much enjoy the lively colors and movement in your paintings and the stories they tell! I have also noticed you receiving more and more press lately as others also love your work. That’s wonderful for an artist making a living at their passion. Unfortunately, it seems stealing an artist’s/artisan’s work/designs seems to be a growing problem especially with the prolific use of photos on the internet and the ease with which they can be copied and transmitted. I know it’s little comfort, but “they” must think your work is great to be imitating it. I think you’ve arrived; time to lawyer up like the big time designers to protect your work. My heart goes out to you. I know this isn’t something you thought you would have to deal as you sat painting in your studio. But, please don’t let “them” squelch your artistic talent. Your art is a blessing to the world.

  19. Martine le Clainche

    this may seem an odd way of looking at the situation but Congratulations!! It is the ultimate recognition of your very fine work and talent worthy of being copied!! Obviously it is financially outrageous but can you turn the situation around to your advantage? Your original work should have an even greater value. Can you push your image forward as the “original” If there are big stores selling your work can you organize some sort of deal with them to show your original work or have a run of prints done for them, they are already convinced that they like your work. Don’t loose sleep over it all, your work is fabulous and I am proud to have original authentic prints on my wall.!! In fact before you prices go up I must do some xmas shopping… Surely this can but spread your reputation, go for it!! Fame and fortune just around the corner. Look at it as free advertising. That is not to say that you shouldn’t follow up the legal copyright side of things but be creative and use this as leverage for yourself. Otherwise keep on painting!!

  20. I am so sorry to hear of this…it is stressful because it’s someone stealing from you…your own precious work. I hope something gets worked out, keep doing what you love and keep perspective. All the best.

  21. Oh Janet! I am so sorry for you! I am sure you are worn out. Take care of yourself during all this! We love and support you!

  22. Hi Janet, I’m an illustrator and unfortunately I often heard this kind of story… Can I share your post on Facebook? I think we must talk about copyright violation!!

    • Absolutely! I just ask that at this time we refrain from mentioning the names of the stores that are involved in this matter.

  23. As a fellow artist I can say that this really sucks and I hope you get it resolved. I am so sorry that you are going through. Sadly, If a person is as talented as you are and you put your work out there, it’s going to get copied. (I mean this as a compliment but no matter how I word it, it isn’t coming out right.) It seems to be happening more and more and hopefully we will all figure out how to make it more difficult for the unscrupulous. On the upside, I wasn’t familiar with your beautiful work but I am now. I don’t know if you work with anyone who sells your prints on paper or canvas, but you should. That way you can beat the copiers at their own game. Best of luck to you.

  24. Hi Janet

    Try IP insurance it could be the least expensive way to fight any potential copyright infringement battles. However you cannot take it out retrospectively.

  25. Kimberly POloson

    Hi Janet, your art is lovely. Im sorry to hear that your going through the same thing I went through More than once. Michaels did a whole line of my artwork several years ago. I hired a lawyer to fight it but she only got as far as Finding out the name of the company that was copying and that they were in China. She felt she could go no further and warned me that I might not be able to fight it because I didn’t copyright my work. So that’s important. I just found out today that another company in China has stolen more of my Images. Im glad I noticed your story because Im going to start doing research on how to fight back. Good luck and I hope you get further than I did, I just gave up because I was going through some heath problems and became very frustrated.

  26. Kimberly POloson

    Hi Janet , Your art is Lovely. I went through this more than once with my art. Michaels knocked off a whole line of my artwork on all kinds off home decor products. They did a whole isle in there store of one of my Rooster designs. I hired a lawyer and she only got as far as to find out the name of the company and that they were in China. At that point she said she could do nothing for me. I didn’t copyright my work so that was also a problem. I ended up not going any further because I didn’t have the money to keep fighting what seemed to be a loosing battle. I just found out today from my print publishers that Another group of my paintings has been stolen. Im glad that I noticed your story on Facebook because Im going to start doing more research on how to fight back. It’s so frustrating! I hope you make more progress than I have. Kim

    • Hi Kimberly,
      I’m terribly sorry to hear that this is happening to you as well. I know that in the USA you have to register your copyright in order to go after them for legal fees and possibly damages to your own business, but I think you can still go after them for the money they made off your work. In Canada (where I am) you don’t have to register as long as you created the artwork. However, if you are in the US I would find an Intellectual Property lawyer who will take the case on a contingency basis so you don’t have to lose your shirt on it. Everyone in the chain of selling copyright infringed work is liable whether they knew it or not and so you may be able to go after the retail stores that have made money off your work at least for royalties plus a stiff penalty payment. They in turn might think twice about buying from shady Chinese factories. If the retailers stop buying the knock offs, the factories will stop producing them.

    • Oh God, I am sorry to hear that! I always feel iffy when I see any printing on canvas at Michaels, Target, etc. I don’t know where they came from, who were authors, did they get paid.
      What means “copyrighted”? Do you need to make a picture of each painting and sort of patent them or how?

      • I’m actually going to do a post on everything that I have found out about copyright and copyright infringement in the next few weeks- so please check back!

  27. Kimberly POloson

    Hi Janet, Thanks for The information. The line of products from my rooster paintings was in the stores about 4 years ago and has probably already sold out. Do you think It would be to late to go after them for damages. I checked out the rest of your work and it’s really wonderful!

  28. Sharyn Sowell

    Many of us have had the same experience. I think we should stand together, support one another, and lean on the retailers who are selling the end products. I know much of it comes from China but I wonder how many retailers would sell it if they began to have negative publicity about it. When this happened to me I was heartsick but didn’t prosecute. We artists need to stand together better. I wish you much success going after them.

  29. Hi, I believe this happened to one of our local artists here as well. I am not sure what he did besides contact the store, but maybe you could get in touch and see if he took it any further. His name is Duncan Stewart and lives in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. I have put a link here to his website. Good luck!


  30. Hi Janet
    This is awful for you. I do hope you’ve managed to sleep since you posted this. I agree with Pascale – I would have thought the retailers have to disclose their suppliers, you may need a strongly worded letter from a lawyer or organisation such as ACID based here in England. They are only may 16-20 dollars ( I don’t know off the top of my head what the exchange rate is)per month to get access to advice and reductions on lawyers fees. Of course there must be a US organisation that does something similar – I hope so. Very best of luck with this. Deal with it once a day and then try to put it out of your mind and focus on the joy in your painting. Hard I know but that way it won’t swallow you up.
    with love Gabriella

  31. Hi Jane, My niece sent your post to me in hopes I might have some suggestions. Outside of agreeing with all others that say get legal council, I don’t. However, I posted your question on the Artist Journal Workshop FB page in hopes some with more experience than I have would respond. And so they did 🙂

    Fellow artist/illustrator Earnest Ward (earnestward.blogspot.com) says: If it has been stolen by someone working in a country that is not a party to existing international copyright laws, there’s not much the artist can do. If, on the other hand, the guilty party lives/works in a participating country, the victim needs to turn to a professional — a lawyer versed in international copyright law. (Caveat: since, in this case, the end product is being sold in countries that are parties to international copyright agreements, there’s still probably a strong case. Definitely seek professional legal council… and lots of media coverage wouldn’t hurt either.) Good luck!

  32. “Who protects artists and writers whose intellectual property has been taken from them that don’t have the financial resources to investigate it?”

    I am so, so sorry to read your post. I found your post when I googled, “support group for artists whose work has been stolen” — I KID YOU NOT.

    I am fighting a *huge* infringement of my work by fashion designer Chris Benz, Lancôme and Saks Fifth Avenue and I am getting nowhere after spending thousands upon thousands of dollars. It is really affecting my desire to stay in business to be honest. I have a lot of amazing people who are supporting me and care and are super mad about it. In the end, these companies can get away with their unethical behavior and it is so upsetting.

    If you need a confidante, please email me.

    I wish you the best of luck fighting your case and again, I am SO SORRY and I can relate, I really can. 🙁

  33. Love your work! My husband is in the art business (owns a couple of art magazines) and said you’ve got an opportunity here to hire a Licensing Agent who will license and then distribute your work. There is also a Licensing Conference where work is displayed for Licensing Agents to consider. Art Expo in NYC is a place where artists showcase their work for potential publishers. You’ve got proof now that they will sell in national retail chains, right? Then you’ll start to see some revenue from this mess. Also, he suggests doing a Google Image search. Put your paintings into Google and it will search everywhere your painting is… Invest some money in the licensing…it works! Hang in there, this could be a Godsend and make lemonade out of lemons! Girl, you are big time now—accept it! Yay!

    • Thank you Laurie for your advice. I actually do have a licensing agent – for almost five years now and I do license my work in several forms including wall art. However, the knock offs of my work are less expensive (obviously because they don’t pay the artist any royalties) and they’ve been leaked into western distribution channels. In a sense, they are competing with my proper licensed work which means they are very damaging to my business. I’ve tried to find the good in this, but there really isn’t anything.

  34. Very sad. And many artists, buyers, and even bystanders think this is okay as long as they change it up somehow they think it is then their own. I wish you the best outcome.


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