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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Content Theft by Artists in SL

I wanted to raise awareness of content theft by artists. In my experience talking to many many artists and gallery owners, the majority of problems with copyright violations are simply due to ignorance of copyright law. Yes, it is usually illegal (not to mention unethical) to just take some random picture you got from "somewhere" on the intewebz, upload it to SL and sell it for profit. In some cases that I've looked into, it's deliberate, some "artists" is uploading images blatantly stolen from somewhere, and deceptively passed off as their own for profit. But this is thankfully rare. In almost all cases I've seen, it happens simply due to ignorance. People are under the mistaken impression that just because they find an image on google search or that they got from Uncle Bob in email that there is no copyright associated with that image. Or because they got an image for free, it is ok for them to resell it for a profit.

Gallery owners need to do their part to avoid content theft in SL, and I consider using content or graphics from outside of SL that they do NOT have permission to sell as content theft, plain and simple. If it's wrong to snarf a texture of someone else's painting in SL and sell it, then it's wrong to upload something stolen from outside of SL and sell it as well.

What to do? Be SURE to ask any artists whose art you are displaying this simple question: "Are YOU the content creator of these textures and/or prims? If no, do you have legal permission either via license or from the content creator to sell them?" Just because they created the prim that their texture is slapped on doesn't mean they didn't steal the texture. So check with your artists, don't assume. Don't be an unwitting partner to the sale of stolen goods. You have a responsibility to ensure that your gallery does NOT participate in content theft in any way, shape or form. At the same time, don't assume that an artist that is a bit ignorant of the law is an evil scumbag. Some well meaning people just don't think about these things. Make them aware that it's wrong, it's theft, and we don't do that in SL, where many people make a living off the things they create.

At that point you will need to use your best judgement on whether the theft was indeed deliberate or not. If I were you, I'd err on the safe side and seriously consider asking that artist to pack up and leave unless you truly are convinced it was simple ignorance. If you have any questions or want a 2nd opinion, or would like an independant 3rd party to confront and discuss the issue with the artist, please let me know, I'd be glad to help.


  1. I am wondering .. what about using a picture you got from "somewhere".. and using it as part of a larger work in a collage? In a way that the picture is only a small part of the rest.. and is sort of "quoted". I mean.. artists are doing it all over the world.. all the time.. do they always ask for permissions even on the smallest images? Or is there a special view on this kind of use?
    I am wondering if anyone has info on that.

  2. Had a problem like this in another 3D community years back. They put their name to others' textures, including copyright free ones. I reckon they still do it. Nice landscape. You only made the sky pink? Your name is on it. Hmmm Uploaded an image from Microsoft Clip Gallery and smushed it around in the textures tab? Hmmmm

  3. This is precisely the sort of thing that inspired me to create my gallery. I was looking for artwork for my home, and found a store full of Jim Warren, Boris Vallejo and others, which I knew were not licensed. So, I decided to build a gallery with works which I personally had licensed from the artists. Being nervous about contacting big-name artists led to my inspiration to use relative unknowns, which I'm very pleased about, as it's led me to some very wonderful artists.

    If you need content for your gallery, it's not difficult to get it. There is plenty of wonderful art out there, and all you have to do is ask.

  4. Hi Sasun,

    I think sadly it is much more common than you think, there are hundreds of "galleries" (I use that term loosely) that are selling other artists work. I made a post about it a while back you might be interested to see - http://watashiwairu.ning.com/profiles/blog/show?id=2113167%3ABlogPost%3A1637

  5. Wow, finally someone wrote something like this and posted it. I'm so tired of people surfing in Google Images, then just copying stuff and selling it as their own, or simply applying some photoshop filters to images they don't own and calling themselves SL artists...
    Let's make something serious about art in SL, plz.
    Good post Sasun.

  6. In reply Kirachan- I am a collagist and assemblagist thus I use a lot of found images in my work. The law as I understand it is that collage is protected somewhat by a derivative art clause which holds that you can use another image not created by you if you adapt and alter it in your work so that it is not distinguishable as the original image. Having said that, another way to avoid copyright issues is to use images that are 100 years or older which usually place them in the public domain. If you ever have any doubts, research the image or simply just don't use it. .:Krishanna Magic:. www.krishanna.com

  7. I think that everyone in the art community should never be afraid to confront someone if there are any doubts. Not antagonistically, don't just assume they know they are stealing on purpose, but don't be afraid to PUSH BACK and find out, if you think they are. Many of these people get away with it because no one says anything. I do, and in every case their "gallery" was gone soon after. There is only so much you can do, but at least let them know that they are scum, content theft sucks, and that you WILL be informing the content owner of their theft and that they are indeed legally liable if they don't stop immediately.

  8. Actually using a picture from someone else that is not in the public domain is not legal, even in a collage. The derivative work is for the original owner. If you go to the copyright office's web page they have a number you can call and ask questions to. Copyright and intellectual property is VERY sticky. If you take one of my pictures and alter it, slap it in something else, and I see it..well I can sue you because you didn't have the right to create the derivative in the first place because you didn't own the image. They have many FAQs on this topic and others at copyright.gov if you really want to read up on it. It's always safest to get something in writing, even in the virtual world, from the recorded copyright holder if you are going to use that person's work. That protects you from retaliation..such as an artist turning around and changing their mind or problems down the road if maybe the copyright owner changes.

  9. How does one obtain a licence to sell images in SL? Emails I have sent to artists and galleries about this usually are not responded to.

    What is a reasonable price for a license for SL images? One would have to sell quite a few copies to make even a few dollars. For example, it wouldnt be reasonable to spend $200 for a license to sell $50 worth of images in SL.

    How do you deal with museums that claim copyright to images of objects that are older than 75 years? This is particularly bothersome when the copyright is attached to an object that the museum obtained as a result of theft, something that happens with a Native American artifacts.

  10. Hi Kirachan- Typically the image must be unrecognizable as the original image- meaning you can use pieces or parts or alter it but it cannot be recognized at the original image.

    I am a collage & found object artist in RL nd follow the gerneral rule of 100 years when dealing with images. Often with more famous work, the museums or estates have renewed the copyright on the images and therefore they are unusable without permission

    The smaller images you see on blogs are usually used with credit given and often it's just good netiquette to ask permission or link back the artist's site. There are PLENTY of copyright free resources on the net in which to find images.

    My suggestion would be to Google "US copyright law" and "copyright free images" for more info. Hope that helps.

  11. I've seen alot of 'galleries' selling images for a low amount of money that are neither theirs nor public domain.

    I strongly encourage original works in a gallery.

    These types of infractions ARE reportable and if the image owner decided to do so, also prosecutable.