The problem with stealing

by Robert Genn

(c) Copyright 2008 Robert Genn. If you wish to copy this material to other publications or mail lists, please ask for permission by writing Thanks for your friendship.

January 9, 2009

This morning Terry Culbert of Amherst Island, Ontario,
wrote: "I've noticed that some artists insert text over their online images to avoid unwanted downloading. I dislike the business of marring our work in this way. Looking at mine, a photographer friend commented, 'Great, I love stealable art.' He was being facetious. What are your thoughts?"

Thanks, Terry. Those imprints are called "watermarks," and while they give the copyright holder a feeling of security, they don't deter Chinese clone shops from helping themselves. They don't deter others, either, and it is photographers, particularly, who know all about it. Some pirates think we are living in the last days of copyright and they want to get to the New World. Using low-pixel images will certainly deter someone from making a direct giclee from your image, but no technology will stop somebody making a hand copy of anything you put out there.

Online stealing is on the rise. Last Friday's twice-weekly letter was picked up word-for-word by a lady blogger on a well-respected group blog-site. The letter went online, under her own name, minutes after we put it up. Our subscribers tipped us off. With the cooperation of the blog-site, she was dumped in perpetuity. Her creative block got the best of her.

On the other hand, when people find the letters useful, we love folks to ask permission to copy or quote for their group, community or print publication. All we ask is a link back so people can directly subscribe if they wish.

In the sticky business of reference material, while it's often difficult to find an author, a straightforward request often gets a "yes." On the other hand, sometimes you don't need permission. In a recent commission where I needed a Beaver airplane, I hit Google images and came up with 168,000 of them. I wrote to no one because my painting became an amalgam of many photos. Really, I just needed to know approximately where the windows and struts were.

When creative people begin to see that their own imagination is greater than all the world's theft, true creativity breaks out. Maybe that's being overly idealistic, but I'm sticking with it.

Best regards,


PS: "There are no cops on the Internet. Dishonesty, deceit and manipulation are the norm. It is a depressing example of unrestrained human nature in action." (Paul de Marrais)

Esoterica: At the same time the Internet is everything evil, it is the machine of our times. It is changing everything, including morality. "The nature of information has changed," says Greg Allen. "It is no longer constrained by privilege and apprenticeship." This is why many of us think the bailiwick of handmade art needs to be carefully protected. Technology--use it, but be guarded. "Once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, you're part of the road." (Stewart Brand)