Here we go again


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.

18 Responses to “Here we go again”

  1. Janet, the whole attitude that anything that appears on the internet is fair game (as far as copyright is concerned) is SO wrong and so pervasive. I took an intellectual property course a couple of years back, and even among students there, it was simply assumed that this was the case. Ironically, publishing work with a Creative Commons license is more likely to maintain attribution than not using such a device. Lacking any mention of copyright online tends to keep people from even thinking about the issue when instead the creator should maintain their full rights and control under those circumstances. Bringing it up in the issue in the form of a license serves to remind people you’re aware of your rights and are prepared to enforce them. And it doesn’t help that many commercial websites publish “link bait” in various forms, actually encouraging the public to copy and embed their work for their own uses–in order to garner SEO advantages. The unintended extension of this phenomenon is that people think they are actually doing you a favor by disseminating your work–even without your knowledge or permission. Best of luck to you and Lisa.

    This is a tough issue. I’m glad you’re fighting for it. The internet isn’t new and shiny any more. It’s matured to the point that Web users should understand that they have a responsibility to understand basic copyright issues.

  2. I’m so glad you fought it and glad Lisa is too. I’ve seen her story all over Facebook, so hopefully lesser known artists will benefit from her wide reach. I’m really surprised at that shop owners attitude. Just so disappointing. I look forward to reading your upcoming post 🙂

  3. I certainly can understand your wanting to keep all the nasty details to yourself regarding the copyright infringements on your work, but there is one very powerful tool you have at your disposal, public opinion! Supply and demand is what drives the market place and if folks, like the owner of your little local shop understand that at all, they would not what their name associated with something like this. It’s great you are wanting to write about it now, but I might suggest going a step further…name names!!! Your fans and patrons would love to know which stores carry the knock-offs and will spread the word far and wide about those stores and their sales will suffer, as they should. Copyright infringement is wrong. I think that’s what bothers me so much about Pinterest. It’s a neat idea, but the couple of times I’ve tried to follow a photo back to it’s original source, I’ve failed; unable to find where it originated, anything about the products in the photo, let alone any hope of figuring out who took the photo. That, I believe, is also copyright infringement.

    It’s a back-handed compliment, I guess, to know you have achieved a level of success as an artist where your work is ripped off, but lawyer-up definitely!!!! To the fullest extent you are capable of. Also, tap into and exploit public opinion [name names] for all it’s worth!! That part is free!

    Best of luck on your continuing fight.
    Traci S.

  4. Jennifer Rudder

    Hi Janet. I had no idea of what you have been through. Good for you for confronting the Stratford store owner and trying to make people see that they are actually selling “stolen goods.” It shouldn’t have to be this way. Best of luck going forward.

  5. This is always so shocking to hear! I was so upset for you back when it happened to you and it’s even more upsetting to know that people from your community where not understanding. It seems so hard to stop this chain of fraud at every point, from the creator of the fakes all the way to the retail stores. I hope Cody Foster gets what they deserve. Good luck!

  6. Alan and Judy

    What a shame that a creative person such as yourself must spend time on these frustrating hassles. You have done a fine job in dealing with the situation. We are proud of you

  7. Dear Janet. I really feel for you…your work is unique and beautiful, your are a creative spirit and I hate to think that you have to spend your time fighting horrible lawsuits instead of painting!!! I am looking up at 3 prints on my study wall with your original signatures as I write….your work is worth every cent!! Best of luck from Cape Town, South Africa, Susan x

  8. more power to you and Lisa! and yes, name names- because the power of the people who back you will have influence in your community and that little shopkeeper will have to face up to that.
    This is great for all of us selling on the internet.

  9. Your work is the first I’ve bought off etsy direct from an artist and saved up for 2 years to take to a frame shop to be professional framed. My family asked me if I was sure I really wanted mostly your prints for Christmas last year when I already had a few in the mailing envelope unframed. I said I would someday and now they are framed on my walls and your gorgeous prints are the first thing guests notice when they enter my apartment. Thank you. Your prints are so me and I love it.

  10. I’ve been under a rock for awhile, so I’m just now seeing this. Lisa Congdon’s post and the flickr page of all the other ripoffs were just mind-boggling. There’s no getting around that it’s intentional, outright theft.

    It’s also true that everything seems to be fair game. Perhaps it started with people thinking it was ok to illegally download music, movies, and books–after all, they’re only hurting big, greedy companies, and not real people/artists. Right? And it’s just another step to trolling people’s blogs, FB pages, and commercial sites to purloin images for their own use/gain. I think (hope) the tide is turning, tho.

    I’m glad that you fought back, Janet. I know it wasn’t easy, and you should be proud of what you did. (And shame on that shop owner for being so recalcitrant in doing the right thing.)

  11. Just catching up with you and your beautiful art, Janet! When I read the portion about some people saying that you deserved it because you put yourself out there-that is called being in business! My next thought was how judgmental we get to celebrities when they don’t to be hounded just because they make movies….hmmmm!


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