Copyright Infringement Issues
My week started off on Monday with an energizing yoga class at 7:00 am, a whole meal alkaline shake for breakfast and a Cease & Desist letter written out to a website selling jewelry that infringed the copyright not only of Camilla, but several other artists in our community. The site, it seems, is based in China. Their live chat function does not work, but they have a submission form and an email contact address, so they have received multiple letters/messages with the cease and desist.
This isn't the first time that I've had to issue a Cease & Desist. It won't be the last. We certainly do not have a team of lawyers to call on, to monitor, or to react to every possible infringement of copyright. Unfortunately it happens a lot, and we were lucky this time because we found out and can try to do something about it. So how did we find out? Was it by name/brand/keyword alerts? No, in this case those were useless- Camilla's name was obviously missing. Was our legal team vigilantly scouring the web? No, we covered that point above. We were alerted by -- a fan! We may not have a pack of lawyers on our team - we have something infinitely better - a pack of fan watchdogs!
Preamble/Mini-Rant: while brands and marketers flood our screens, feeds and heads with fan-building-strategy-babble, what so often is overlooked is the fan himself or herself. I'm quite annoyed with all that "content" out there but that's another post for another time -- though it informs the underlying philosophy to how I operate - cutting unnecessary "brand strategy" clutter!
You see, fans are people who care. They have a vested interest because - in this case speaking about Camilla - they are inspired by and have an emotional connection to her art. Likely, many fans are themselves artists or designers who look to Camilla for what it means to be a successful professional artist. And they are vigilant overseers of her art and her brand. They care so much that they want to make sure no one is taking advantage of her! Ideally, a brand can cultivate this kind of love and caring in their fans and - yes - it's perfectly possible once you get your strategy right.
Back to our watchdogs! We get regular updates, emails, messages, etc. from fans showing us products, art, news, links, etc. relating to the use of Camilla's art on anything from book covers, to blogs to jewelry and clothing. While we have licensed out Camilla's art onto many products and we've done cool brand partnerships and creative collaborations, there are opportunists and dishonest businesses that continually try to take advantage of others. Unfortunately, scammers and dishonest business practices are realities we must all face and defend ourselves from. Since we know this, we also know to be on the lookout for it, and that's exactly what Camilla's fans do for her; they are protecting her from being taken advantage of or ripped off. This behavior is the heartwarming opposite of the scourge of business we all have to deal with.
I've seen "Camilla" cases ranging from a naive and unknowing 16 year old selling some DIY rings to manufacturers such as dresses123.com, to very blatant artists claiming Camilla's art as their own - in one case someone digitally erased her signature from an online image of an original painting and posted it to her portfolio page; another time an artist repainted - to the best of her ability - Camilla's art and had her own gallery show!
How far will a person who rips off the work of a very well known, respected and highly recognizable talent such as Camilla (and hopes to get away with it) go? The answer is: not far. Your reputation - if you had been building one - is demolished. In no uncertain terms is copyright infringement EVER ok. In no uncertain terms is it acceptable to blatantly copy, even if it is out of idolatry, another artist's work and pass it off as your own. And it certainly is never ok to attempt to profit financially or commercially by using someone else's art. If you're inspired, follow creative commons rules or just common sense -- cite your fountain of inspiration; name the artist, share the link, cite the source.
Will my Cease and Desist letter be taken seriously? Does International law prevail? Will I need to get a lawyer involved? We'll see. For now, we've done what we can, including telling every artist whose work we recognized that they are also being ripped off.
One final point I want to make is this: even though this 'cease and desist' may seem pointless because it's a Chinese online company, if you ever realize your copyright is being infringed - do something about it. Write a letter, ask the question, make a statement, and make a stand. If you don't claim your own copyright, if you knowingly let someone else steal your work (your brand) and idly stand by, how likely is it that you will be able to protect yourself when it happens again? Besides, you worked damn hard to get your work out there and it's yours - fair and square - so don't let anyone or any situation, no matter how murky or confusing, make you stand down.
To the fan(s) who get in touch and who are Camilla's watchdogs: thank you. You rock! It's your loyalty and love that fuels Camilla - and me - to continue doing what we do <3