Monday, April 3, 2017

About copyright infringement and web art jackals

The following is the text of my answer to a question posted on by the American designer Darryl Lankford who got in touch with me after knowing about the case of my painting image stolen by an illegal Russian music label in 2008.

First off, thank you for requesting my own opinion and thought about this very delicate matter and for linking my own case and question posted on Quora some time ago. I need to underline that I’ve started painting and drawing at a very early age. My first artistic works were put on display in my hometown when I was 8 years old, so since then I’ve always tried many ways to reach a wider and wider audience. When I got my first access to the internet in 2000 I’ve immediately created my personal website hosting a small selection of paintings while I was keeping exhibiting at local group shows and solo shows (and studying for my Bachelor’s degree in Literature). I was alredy aware of the risk of being “copied” or that someone would steal my art without crediting me, but I was confident that it could be only a minor drawback once my art had had a public recognition. I was firmly persuaded that leaving a sign of my own existence on the internet was a mandatory way to get a first exposure and credit as an artist. In my early years I’ve never been too much worried about extreme originality or uniqueness as I was still experimenting and elaborating different ideas and styles by observing and studying themes and concepts from other artists.
Moreover, I tend to consider unique the personality and the creative approach of the artist more than his individual artworks: indeed over the years I’ve extended my interest to writing, filmmaking, animation, music and acting. When considered as a whole, I think that my artistic output outlines a peculiar aesthetic world transcending the inevitable influences I’ve absorbed from other famous painters, directors, musicians and writers.
When in 2006 I painted my own tribute to the 30th anniversary of Jean-Michel Jarre’s “Oxygene” album (a benchmark in the development of electronic music that exerted an enduring spiritual influence on my artistic attitude) I was already planning to exhibit it both on line and in a public show. At that time some of my Jarre-related artworks were posted in a special art gallery on the unofficial “JarreUk” website managed by British fan Duncan Walls who appreciated and encouraged my visual interpretations of Jarre’s music. Jarre himself followed and endorsed this website that in a few years became a sort of official web portal gathering all the news regarding his music projects and concerts. Somehow he knew me already since he included my self-portrait in my atelier (sent via email when in 2003 his management requested fans to send their photos for a secret project) in the booklet of his official “AERO”greatest hits album released by Warner Music in 2004. Therefore I decided to unveil my celebrative oil painting titled “Spiracula (Oxygene 1976–2006)” in an exclusive article published on the main page of JarreUk, as I knew that Jarre himself would have been able to see it.

Few years later Duncan called me to make me aware that an illegal Russian "Jarre Greatest hits" digipack released in 2008 with my (uncredited) painting "Spiracula" as cover art, surfaced as a legal release at the Midem festival in Cannes, adding that a fan showed it to Jarre himself after a concert believing it to be a genuine release. Since then it’s still on sale on websites such as Amazon, eBay, Discogs and several on line music stores. Many Jarre collectors considered it a special Warner release thanks to its very professional and stylish packaging, even though the cover art isn’t properly credited: on the rear there’s only the nickname of an elusive designer called “Rider”, and the logo of the illegal Russian label “Star mark” specialized in greatest hits series (as explained on Discogs Star Mark).

Obviously, I never got any request of authorization for reproduction from
this Russian label before or after the release of this digipack, and I never got any kind of economic or symbolic compensation for the intellectual property rights abuse.
Both me and Duncan Walls tried to point out this copyright infringement to Jarre's management and Warner staff but to no avail. Jarre is also the current president of CISAC, the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers: it’s interesting to point out that during one of his recent conferences he said something that directly relates to my case:

”There’s something wrong when the advertising world and fashion world
are stealing graphics and patterns from the Aborigines, from the Fiji
Islands, from Africa, without paying anything – just because they can’t
identify the author. You are weakening the identity of some communities
step by step. This has to change (...) For us [older creators] it’s more
or less okay, because we started our careers when nothing was really
organized. It was a golden age, in a sense. Now, for a young creator,
it’s very difficult. There is no economy, there is no funding (...) So
how can an artist talk about the money and the remuneration he should
get. So many artists are being abused, and when they become recognized
they are abusing the system themselves, as a kind of revenge. It’s
better to not talk about money, but the value of intellectual property".

From time to time people post this album cover on Facebook, Youtube and forums as a rare piece of their albums collection. When I can notice it, all I can do is declaring that the painting is my original creation (aside of JarreUK feature, my authorship is proven by the animated video using that painting released on my Youtube channel in 2007) adding that I never gave my authorization to use that artwork to pirates, and that I never got any income from this illegal release, despite the fact it seems dangerous to me to try crediting a cover art printed on a pirate release since somehow I could be considered a pirate myself, or at least accused of using as a self-promotion an illegal product infringing the rights of Jarre's music and Warner company.

Therefore I never got any real promotion from this art theft (as someone wrote me saying that this digipack helped to increase the popularity of my art) since the people selling these copies are earning money by abusing and exploiting my painting as well as Jarre's music. The crucial difference is that, while Jarre is a rich international artist with a 40 years career who can rely on managers and agents and isn’t really damaged by some bootlegs or illegal digipacks as long as they correctly print his name on the cover, I’m a young free lance multimedia artist unable to adequately protect my copyrights when an ANONYMOUS illegal organization steals my art on line.
Two years ago a friend of mine suggested me to consult a lawyer but he just wanted my money in order to send letters in Russian and English languages, despite he was perfectly aware that it’s practically impossible to ask for compensation from an anonymous illegal label without any address or registered office.
Last summer I’ve even managed to personally meet Jarre before his Italian concert in Rome and I was able to give him the artbook I’ve released in 2008 containing some of the artworks inspired by his music, including obviously the “Spiracula” painting used for the Star Mark digipack. We couldn’t discuss that problem due to lack of time and so far I didn’t receive any further message from him or his management. I’m quite sure that neither him nor his company or CISAC are able to deal with this kind of situation, but nevertheless I would have appreciated some form of symbolic consideration in this regard.

Despite all this story, I’m still keen to keep posting my art on line through all my social profiles as I cannot simply remove all the content shared so far on line now, hoping that galleries or art collectors will watch my portfolio via unsolicited emails or in person. Actually over the last 15 years I’ve visited hundreds of galleries between USA and Europe and the majority didn’t accept to evaluate a portfolio provided directly by the artist, as many prefer to find new artists on the web or by visiting other shows according to their exhibiting policy. Some of the group exhibitions I’ve joined, as well as the London one where I’ve exhibited the “Spiracula” painting in 2007, were reached thanks to my presence on several social networks.

In 2014 the design of an 18 years old unknown Egiptian artist, Ahmed Emad Eldin, posting his works on the art portfolio Behance website (where I’ve uploaded a portfolio as well Behance) has been selected by the Pink Floyd creative team to provide the concept for the cover of the latest Pink Floyd’s album “The Endless River” after its director Aubrey Powell discovered and liked one of his images on that website.

Probably it has been just a lack of good luck on my side. In fact, it’s quite annoying to think that if Jarre or his creative team, just like the Pink Floyd team, would have endorsed or officially used in some way my painting or my concept, specially after realizing that people love it so much and connect it to his music (exactly like it happened for the famous Michel Granger’s cover art of the first “Oxygene” that his then girlfriend Charlotte Rampling bought after seeing it in a Paris gallery ) maybe now I wouldn’t regret posting it on JarreUk: I’m sure the Star Mark label would have never “stolen” it if they didn’t know that it was inspired and conceived for the anniversary of Oxygene (I suspect those pirates presumed that Jarre paid me for creating the painting).

(A fan from Ireland created this cover art and news collage adding also my artwork instead of the Granger’s art, as he apparently liked it so much to consider it an official Jarre’s cover).

So I think that your decision of sharing on line your artworks depends by the way you approach the web and by what you want to achieve with your creative activity, being conscious of all the dangers and the advantages it may offer. Unfortunately the main issue regarding the copyright infringement is a huge system “glitch” transcending the web that many young or not so well renowned creators will never fix if international organizations and cultural institutions will not develop an alternative economic model to protect and sustain them.

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