I have recently been the victim of copyright infringement. Not a good feeling. For all I know this has happened many times before and I was blissfully unaware.
On November 24th, 2010 I got an early morning phone call from a woman in Australia. She was excited to have found me. She had gone to some lengths to locate my contact information, first calling my dad at his studio, then my mother who gave her my home phone number (thanks mom!).
Woken from a nice morning sleep by a friendly sounding voice happy to have me on the line, I tried to shake the cobwebs as I listened to this woman explain that she had purchased a series of stamps online filled with my artwork and could she please send them to me to have them “signed by the artist”. I was now wide awake and completely confused. How could someone from Australia possibly have stamps of my art? I asked her to explain:
-“I am an avid collector. I saw these stamps and fell in love with the beautiful imagery. They are Russian and I bought them online. I would be thrilled if you would agree to sign them!”
(I’m paraphrasing here, but that’s more or less what she said.)
-( Whoah! Back up lady! You have what?) “How do you know these are my images?”
-” Wwell, I am looking at your website right now and see your barn owl called Ginger, your cheetah, chimpanzee, opossum…” ( she rambled off several images )
– “Hmm! Well, indeed I have drawn these animals, but I have never made stamps out of them. Where did you say you got these?”
-“Oh, I bought them online in good faith and paid good money for them too.”
-“Wow, well, I know nothing about this. I’ve never okayed anyone to use my artwork to make stamps. I am curious to see them. Yes, please send them my way.”
I asked her to email me so I would have her contact info and to solidify that this conversation really happened (and that it wasn’t one of my vivid morning dreams)!
She emailed me an hour later thanking me for agreeing to sign the stamps and that she’d contact me once they were in the mail.
I wrote her back immediately asking her to please tell me where she had purchased them… a name, a website, anything! I never heard back.
A few weeks later a package arrived by registered mail. Sure enough, inside were 4 sheets of stamps filled with my artwork, beautifully printed and by all accounts appearing like actual postage stamps with the year ( two sheets said 2009, two sheets with 2010), and foreign writing and currency! Two sheets looked like they were from some Russia or an eastern block country and two sheets had what looked like Japanese text on them. I was blown away! Shocked! Impressed. ANGRY!!! Who the hell had stolen my artwork to make stamps and sell them for a profit and not tell me or mention my name anywhere?!?!? I was outraged. I had a lot of questions.
I emailed the Australian woman to let her know the stamps had arrived and indeed they were filled with my artwork. Could she PLEASE tell me where she bought them? Was she aware that these images were stolen directly from my website (THIS WEBSITE!) and did she realize this was copyright infringement and illegal?! She became very defensive saying she only bought them because she loved the beautiful images and that she was a victim here. She was not going to reveal where she bought them. She now feared she was going to be implicated in the theft. My head was spinning. The nerve of her to not reveal the manufacturer of these stolen works. What did she have to lose by telling me?
There were too many inconsistencies in her story. Why did she so desperately want me to sign these? Why wouldn’t she tell me where she bought them? How on earth did she find out I was the artist?! Nowhere on the stamps is my name or contact information! She claimed that while she was waiting for the stamps to arrive she was surfing the internet and came across my website and realized I was the artist of what she’d just purchased. I’m sorry but that is like looking for a needle in a haystack! I tried for hours to locate my images by naming “barn owl”, “cheetah”, “aye aye”…and on perhaps the 50th page of imagery I came across one of my barn owl drawings! Something was definitely fishy about her story and now she was refusing to help me in any way. She had turned around and was accusing me of stealing stamps she’d paid “good money” for. She was afraid I would not return them to her and was going to “confiscate” them for evidence. The mind boggles! I was gobsmacked. The nerve! I simply want to locate the manufacturer of these illegal items and get to the bottom of this, and my one link (a supposed “fan” of my work) was refusing to facilitate me in this quest.
My parents spoke to their lawyer- who is not a copyright lawyer, but gave his advice to the best of his knowledge saying that unfortunately, unless the stamps were made in North America it would be pretty hard to fight it. How upsetting! So, some company on the other end of the world can steal directly from someone’s website on another continent, create marketable products and profit while the artist struggles to make ends meet from her art in her own country. Where is the justice here?
How can this happen? Continue to happen …and there be no recourse?! Why does the artist get the bum wrap here? It’s hard enough trying to make a go of it in this world…double that by being in the arts and working for yourself…Where is the legal backing and compensation? Of course the majority of artists don’t have the kind of money to spend on lawyers to fight this sort of thing. Does this make it okay for it to occur?!
You may notice most of my images now have ©Anouk Bikkers splashed across them…a tough lesson to learn. The damage has been done. A blatant disregard for the fact that on every page I’ve stated All Illustrations © Anouk Bikkers…I had to take it one step further and take every drawing off and embed the © file and reload them onto my site. How else am I to let the world know of my artistic capabilities if not to advertise them on my personal website? It’s so unfair.
I am hoping to get some media on this…there is a local paper who has written the story and is awaiting confirmation from my parents lawyer before they print the story. But this is a big issue and it’s not going away anytime soon. The internet is the “wild west”…anything goes! Stealing is obviously okay and acceptable. I am shocked by the loose morals of consumers like this Australian who seem to think it’s okay to buy stolen work and have the nerve to expect the artist to be complacent and agree to send “their” property back to them – signed no less!!
What would you do in my situation?