If you haven’t already heard, there has been yet another major copyright infringement story hitting the news . This time it involves a number of artists including Lisa Congdon whose artwork was allegedly ripped off by a wholesale company called Cody Foster and used for folk-style Christmas ornaments without their permission or awareness. You can read about the story here. It appears this Cody Foster company has been stealing from artists for years and getting away with it. Fortunately- or unfortunately for them, Lisa Congdon has an epic social media following and isn’t going to let them get away with it this time. Not only is she ‘lawyering up’ as she calls it, but she is also getting a stunning amount of media attention on the infringements and by the looks of it, Cody Foster is losing many of its big name retail clients as a result.
To be honest, Lisa Congdon makes me feel a little ashamed. I feel that perhaps I should have been more outspoken with what happened to me and how utterly wrong it all was. I think partly why I didn’t go into too much detail was because of how widespread and complicated it got. Also the company that actually did the initial ripping off was not American- it was Chinese. It’s kind of hard to get the media all riled up over another knock-off factory in China that goes by five different names.
What I found to be the most troubling in my situation aside from the obvious thieving was the common attitude that I deserved it because I have a website and I sell my work online. It was also mingled with ‘don’t bother fighting it- you won’t win’. This came through loud and clear from all sorts of people- including a couple artist friends of mine (they are no longer friends). The belief was that I put my work ‘out there’ and of course it will get stolen and used for profit. Never mind the laws that should protect you- just move on and ignore it.
Perhaps one of the darkest times came when a shop in my own city of Stratford, Ontario started carrying the knock offs. Having them removed wasn’t easy or pleasant. This is an independent store with a long history in my city- not a chain store. The owner’s attitude was not remotely reflective of a community-minded business person. She was particularly concerned with being able to supply affordable artwork to her customers. I should have told her that images stolen and repainted in Chinese sweatshops is not art. It is despair stretched on a piece of canvas with a $17 price tag.
In the end, I did have to ignore some of it- but I pursued litigation where I could afford it. I was happy that I did it. I feel like I stood up for myself- and in a way stood up for other artists because the more of us that make a fuss, the less common this will hopefully become. Ignoring it is not the answer- it is the problem. This past year I feel as if I took a crash course in copyright law and I’ve learned and experienced quite a bit as a result. I’m going to do a follow-up post in the next week detailing some of what I learned in hopes of helping anyone who might find themselves in a similar situation.