The Kidnapping of Athena. The Great Horned Owl.
This was posted to Facebook on October 15, 2015 at 12:00pm as a letter describing the full situation around one of my works of art image was stolen by a company that put it on multiple products, sold the products and profited off of my work without my permission.
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I am way overdue to give you an update on my artwork being used without my permission. The main reason for the delay is that the company in question finally reached out to me, and my lawyer suggested I not talk about it publicly until some things got sorted. Let me fill you in on what’s been going on.
Before I start, I’d first like to say THANK YOU. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your support. You are the reason they finally responded to me. I thought I may get a retweet here and there and possibly a comment on my post, but you all took it to the next level. I was easy to ignore alone — but hard to ignore when all of you had my back.
So here is the story — I’ll keep this short. (Who am I kidding?)
About a year ago I received a message through my website to the tune of “Hey, I saw this online, and I know this is your artwork, but how it is being used doesn’t seem like you. I thought you should know.” Thanks to that kind person giving me the heads-up, I first saw my artwork being appropriated without my permission. After stomping around for a bit, I calmed down and reached out to the company, asking them to stop using my artwork. Their response was kind and seemingly contrite. They said they had no idea; the artwork came to them through another designer they hired; and they would stop using the artwork. I saw a couple of things taken down online, and figured all was taken care of. I shouldn’t have assumed anything.
About one year later, I was setting up a seminar on Intellectual Property and Copyright, and decided to use this as an example. A few seconds online revealed that not only had they not stopped using my artwork, but had decided to double-down, using it as one of their company’s primary logos. It could be found all over social media, online, and on new products released after we had communicated. It was physically printed and available as stickers, was used on festival and sponsorship materials, and more. I was shocked, upset, and rather offended. A decision had clearly been made that they not only had no respect for copyright (or artists) but that I was merely an annoyance to be swatted at and ignored.
Despite the potential expense, I made the decision to defend my art. I hired a lawyer and together we sent them a Cease And Desist letter. They were given 30 days to respond — ample time to form a response and contact a lawyer if they chose. 33 days later, we still had heard nothing.
I honestly felt helpless. I didn’t know what to do. This was a situation that has been discussed in our community of artists over and over. Would we fight? Could we afford to? I was frustrated and fed up, and so I wrote a small post on Facebook to share the situation. I posted these four sentences only:
“I really wished it would never happen, but it did. (Name of company) has stolen my artwork and has been profiting off of it for some time now without my permission. I thought Skateboard companies were supposed to support artists. Not rip them off.”
I could not have predicted the response.
There was an almost instant ground-swell of support. Friends, family, community members, local artists, fans, supporters, and more. Not only did they share my post across Facebook, but internalized my strife and stood in solidarity with me. The company was flooded with messages on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. They were emailed, called, and held to account. Some of you took the time to design and post banners in support. Their response was predictable — many of you found your accounts blocked by the company across numerous social media platforms. Your posts and comments on their pages were deleted. They shut down commenting altogether where they could.
Some people (of their own volition, simply because they thought it was right) even went so far as to contact vendors that were carrying the products with my artwork, and request that they stop carrying them.
I posted my original four sentences at 12:52 pm. Less than four hours later, at 4:12 pm, they finally contacted me. You guys did in 3.5 hours what I couldn’t do in over 12 months.
The email asked what we wanted: all we wanted was for them to stop. Stop selling products with my artwork, take down everything online and, where possible, in physical form, that includes it or a likeness to it. They restated that they hired a designer that used the artwork, and they didn’t know it was ripped off. Maybe this was true a year ago. But it was most certainly irrelevant now. They misled me last year, and they ignored the Cease and Desist they were sent this year.
They agreed to removal of the artwork and proposed that we sign a mutual statement that we had come to an agreement and all was solved. Annoyingly, hilariously even, but not surprisingly, their lawyer included in the agreement clauses that would have prevented me from ever talking openly about this situation again. Good thing I have a lawyer, too.
After some more back and forth (in which we clearly stated their agreement was absurd, and I would not be signing it, they let us know they are working to take everything down — and at this moment, it seems like they have come pretty close. I’m sure if we looked hard enough we will be able to find it in the backgrounds of photographs and promotional materials, but it seems like, for the most part. it has disappeared.
I’m not out for blood. I just wanted to protect my artwork, protect Athena (the name of the owl I created) and lead by example. I couldn’t just let this go — it happens way too often to way too many artists, and hopefully I can inspire someone else to stand up for themselves and their art when this sort of situation inevitably happens to them.
So this is where we stand. Do I feel like this is resolved? For now. Do I feel used? Absolutely. Do I feel like Athena was kidnapped? Yes I do. I am sad that I had to go through this, although I feel like I can now properly empathize with the many artists who have their work taken and bastardized for someone else’s profit.
I still feel used, in the end. I have lost thousands of dollars, and hours and days of time. While a company has used, profited and built a culture around my artwork, all I have is lost time and lost money.
Unfortunately, this is how it goes in the creative world. It is crazy expensive to go after somebody for using your work without your consent. Many companies know this, and figure — often rightly — that artists can’t afford to fight back.
To the creatives out there, please spend some time to learn about copyright and intellectual property. Know your rights and protect your work.
To all of you that supported me, got angry and made a big difference in this unfortunate situation…
My heart is warmed and I am humbled by the support. It may have seemed like a small action, but it had a big impact.
Without you, I’d probably still be waiting for a response that would never come, and likely be making the decision right now not to file a lawsuit, because the cost of doing so is simply, incredibly, significantly, and sadly out of reach.
Once again because it can’t be said enough,
Love with all my heart,