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March 16, 2012
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The Assumptions of Theft

Journal Entry: Fri Mar 16, 2012, 10:16 AM


One of the biggest issues facing creative minds in the age of the internet is that of theft—of art, of ideas, of design work, even of code.

When we creative types come upon an instance where our work or the work of friends has been repurposed/stolen/ripped, we naturally are upset. We rally our fellow artists to build an army of good against those who would steal that which we painstakingly created from scratch. We send emails, tweets, facebook posts, blog posts, journal posts, and even send snail mail in an attempt to discourage the thieves. We will insult them, threaten them with lawsuits, and make their lives so difficult that they will naturally have no choice but to take down the stolen work.

I have also had my work stolen in many ways. Logos I have created have appeared on websites where the thieves are attempting to actually re-sell the work, artwork I've made has appeared on other websites as both decoration and downloadable/purchasable products, and in one instance some of my work was included as a wallpaper option on cell phones sold in Israel (true story). In my work for deviantART, I have also witnessed my team's work stolen and repurposed in many unauthorized ways: official logos have been placed on inexplicable things, Fella has been repurposed in inexplicable ways (I once saw him on a truck advertisement), and even promotional designs/articles we've built have been repurposed on other websites. In short, I am no stranger to theft.

That said, the creative community at large makes assumptions when it encounters theft. It assumes that the thieves are stealing the work knowingly, and that the thieves are making loads of cash as a result. In my experience, these assumptions are rarely true.

Allow me to elaborate.

Many so-called thieves who take our work and put it on their websites are often under the assumption that they are doing us a favor. They believe they are sharing our work and showing it off to the world. Who wouldn't want to see their work displayed by countless others? These individuals typically have no understanding of copyright or fair use, and when they are accused of theft they are typically surprised and insulted. Again, they thought they were doing something nice! In the modern age of social sharing, one can understand how relocating artwork might be viewed as acceptable.

There are also the so-called thieves who incorporate other people's work into their own. Much like the individuals who thought they were helping us out by sharing our work, these people have no grasp on copyright, and in fact they assume that pictures on the internet are free to use. They are not knowingly stealing the work, but rather they thought the work was so wonderful that they wanted to incorporate it into something they were making. When I was a teacher, I would catch some of my students digging through Google Images, looking for pictures to use in their designs. Naturally I put a stop to this and educated them on the err of their ways, but I've only personally affected a handful of people. On the whole, many students and adults have the assumption that internet = free and nobody is really teaching them how wrong they are.

Lastly, there are those folks who knowingly steal our work and try to re-sell it. Logos, artwork, etc. When we see this work up for sale, we assume they are raking in boatloads of mullah. In actuality, this is almost never the case. Granted, they are positioning the stolen work so that it could generate revenue, but typically the thieves are not very good at promotion, distribution, or business. So, the work almost never sells.

This is not to say we should forgive those who knowingly or unknowingly steal our work. Not at all. But I do think we should be more aware of the reality surrounding perceived theft so that we are not so quick to jump to conclusions about our would-be thieves. When you encounter something you perceive as theft, take a moment and think through the possibilities. Did they knowingly steal it, or did they just make a mistake of ignorance?

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:iconlogiqdesign:
logiqdesign Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2012  Professional Interface Designer
Hey Ryan,

It’s been ages since we’ve talked, but this journal’s title caught my eye when I was glancing through my messages here on dA.

I too have had my work stolen and sold, ripped, remixed, recreated and nearly everything in between. It took years, but finally my work reached the point where it was worthy of ripping. Or alternatively standards have fallen for art-thieves. Either way, it happened.

When it did, I reacted exactly as you described. I was upset, furious even. Finally I had hit a point where my work was getting attention, and some of that attention was being diverted to others claiming to have created it. I sent emails, threatened legal ramifications, contacted hosting providers, and considered social campaigns.

Now years have passed since I was first ripped, and I have grown more as an artist and as a person. I agree with a great deal of what you wrote, especially concerning the fact that many of the people we think are ‘stealing’ our art truly have no idea they are doing something we would object to, in that they don’t understand it is wrong. From my experience you are correct, most people who we perceive initially as thieves who simply do not have the knowledge that they are ‘breaking the rules’.

There is of course a last group who does know what they are doing is wrong, or is at the very least borderline, and does it regardless. However you touched on a very important point in the last two paragraphs. The people who cannot create great work of their own, who must seek out others who have work they can steal, or recreate, usually do so by finding work they really admire and wish they could have envisioned themselves. But most importantly, these people are not often raking in huge profits through abusing the original artist’s hard work. They are, as you mentioned, not good at business (as seen by their lack of legal knowledge and ethics, at the most basic level), and also not good with creativity (as seen by their need to steal others’ work). Combine these two and the odds are high that these people are amateur artists trying to break into the scene or else small / part timers who are just looking for more attention.

Now I'll jump back to what caught my eye originally, the title. I’m almost positive it’s intentional, but even as a lucky chance it’s brilliant. ‘The Assumptions of Theft’. It got my attention originally because it seemed odd. I thought at first glance that if the journal concerned the artist assuming, ‘assumptions’ would be singular rather than plural, or ‘The Assumption of...’ to indicate that artist(s) make a generalized assumption. Then I thought conversely, why not ‘The Assumptions of Thieves’ if it was instead about the ways that people who steal art often do so without knowledge they are in violation of the law and/or ethics. But you chose neither. I was curious why.

The article content concerns mostly a summary of the assumptions made by artists who have had their work stolen, but also of the assumptions made by the thieves stealing said art! The duality and double-meaning are really awesome and brought the title full-circle for me. Really clever, or wonderful coincidence. ;)

Hope all is well.
Alex
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:icontheryanford:
TheRyanFord Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2012  Professional Interface Designer
Let's pretend I intended the duality. 8-)
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:iconshaket:
Shaket Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2012  Professional Interface Designer
ok. But one should always be doing great work
It's the process of inner satisfaction for an artist, designer or any creative person who's actually getting amusement by his/her own work. So, stealers, thieves have very limited mind but a creative person may bring something more interesting and more inspiring for the next to come.
Creativity never ends as far as creator is dead !!!
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:iconalexandrasalas:
alexandrasalas Featured By Owner Mar 16, 2012   Digital Artist
Excellent journal and food for thought! There definitely needs to be more education on all sides of the issue.
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:iconharutotetsu:
HaruTotetsu Featured By Owner Mar 16, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
You know the main reason I took the entry seriously...is because you've had your work stolen.
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:iconfurrama:
Furrama Featured By Owner Mar 16, 2012   Digital Artist
When I was in art school years ago we were allowed to use images we found on the internet, for school projects only. We were told never ever ever to do it if we wanted to include the art in our portfolio or use it in real life work.
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:iconnamenotrequired:
namenotrequired Featured By Owner Mar 17, 2012  Student Interface Designer
Whoops, I read that as "we were never ever ever told..." O_o
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:iconpica-ae:
pica-ae Featured By Owner Mar 16, 2012  Professional Interface Designer
There is a big need for education about topics like that :nod: Especially in times where SOPA and other similar bills are created, people need to be aware of the consequense of what they are doing and that they should not do it, also to protect themselves from lawsuits.

I always thought that schools finally need to start preparing kids for life. They should be educated about (home) economics, how contracts work, what the law is actually about, what a ToS is, how taxes work… you can get in so much trouble for not knowing those things :lol:

On the other hand there are people like Lagerfeld, who don't care if H&M copies their designs. They do take it as a compliment. But nobody would deny that there is a difference in quality and target group that causes Lagerfeld no loss in revenue. So, nobody really gets hurt. The people that can afford Chanel would never buy H&M, while the people who buy H&M cannot affod Chanel :B
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:iconelectricjonny:
electricjonny Featured By Owner Mar 16, 2012  Hobbyist Photographer
I feel that this video is appropriate here [link] =P

Me personally, I could care less if my work is copied. Or stolen, or posted elsewhere, or whatever. Although since my work is simply a hobby to me, that might explain my indifference.
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:iconmudimba:
mudimba Featured By Owner Mar 16, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I know that video is made to be funny, and not taken entirely seriously, but I will bite and respond to it.

It is correct in the notion that, semantically, unlawful copying is not the same as theft. "Art theft" semantically means that somebody came into your gallery and stole a physical painting from you. However, the idea that I cannot hurt you by copying something is intentionally naive. Especially in art, value is derived from scarcity. Ansel Adams was a revolutionary photographer and a genius, but his imagery has lost a lot of its power to create raw emotion because posters of it are hanging on the walls of every college dorm room in the US.

The price of all goods and services is affected by scarcity, but intellectual property is especially so because there is no physical scarcity or production costs to act as a stabilizer.
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