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Ebay Bootlegger Sells Artist His Own Work

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Uploaded on Feb 21, 2011

Please share with any artists who may be affected by eBay bootlegging:
http://paulrichmondstudio.blogspot.co...

The internet plays a crucial role in my artistic career. I have made connections with collectors and gallery owners through my website, sold paintings and prints through my online store, and promoted events through social media outlets. The benefits of online exposure are immeasurable. So when I recently encountered one of the web's shockingly unregulated pitfalls for artists, it did little to deter me from continuing in my online pursuits. However, it opened my eyes to the need for artists to protect themselves and their work from copyright infringement, as well as demand stricter enforcement of intellectual property rights by online businesses.

Thanks to a tip from another artist, I discovered that someone on eBay was selling my work and claiming it as his own. Two of my original paintings appeared in eBay listings by a seller from China who had lifted photographs of my work from my website, cropped off my signature, and added a copyright watermark bearing his own initials. The listings touted original oil paintings on canvas -- surprising, considering that I still had possession of the original works. It also encouraged interested parties to e-mail the seller with wholesale inquiries. I felt completely violated, not to mention outraged. Furthermore, I came to learn that the seller, who was operating under the name Cai Jiang Xun, had over 1,500 items in his eBay store, all of which appeared to be stolen from other artists.

I assumed that once I reported the incident to eBay, the seller's account would be suspended. Little did I know that eBay's policies on this issue are lackluster at best. If an artist reports his or her work being stolen, eBay will pull the specific listing, but regardless of how many complaints get lodged against a seller, they allow him to continue selling without any further consequence. Typically, the seller waits a week and then re-posts the same stolen images.

Unsatisfied, my friends and I decided to launch our own investigation. We began e-mailing Cai from anonymous addresses, posing as potential buyers in order to glean more information. Since my work is inspired by traditional pin-up art (with a twist), we wrote under the guise of a fictional retail operation called "Pinup Fantasy" in order to learn about his wholesale options. Cai informed us that even an order of fifty identical paintings would all be executed by hand, leading us to surmise that he was, in actuality, not working alone. In fact, due to the lack of copyright laws in China, there are entire "fake art" factories dedicated to this kind of devious enterprise.

Over the course of the following month, we continued writing to Cai, spinning a tale of humorously epic proportions in order to further the investigation. We received answers to extensive interview questions, an offer of twenty one other paintings from the series (all my work), photos of Cai in his studio, signed copyright forms to protect "his" intellectual property, and even an original painting as a sample in advance of our order. It was, in fact, hand painted on canvas and almost identical to my original except for the subtle variations of another artist's hand.

We documented the entire conversation on my blog. Visit http://paulrichmondstudio.blogspot.co... to read the complete saga. There, you will also find a link to my Facebook group "Ebay, stop sellers who blatantly rip off artists!" Please join the group and help spread the word so that we can send a strong, collective message to eBay that their failure to penalize sellers who are committing copyright infringement is unacceptable. By turning a blind eye in order to continue collecting listing fees from known art criminals, they are just as guilty as the forgers themselves.

I encourage artists who are sharing their work online to consider the following preventative measures. Use a subtle watermark on all images. That way, sellers can't simply lift the images and re-post. Select the strictest security settings on image-sharing sites, and never upload your work in high-resolution. You can also use the reverse image search feature on the website TinEye (http://www.tineye.com/) to locate where your artwork is appearing online.

The internet is a valuable tool for artists, and I plan to continue using it to further my career. As with any means of widespread exposure, it does increase the potential for copyright infringement. I encourage all artists to implement safeguards to maximize use of the internet for disseminating their work while protecting their intellectual creative property. I also invite artists everywhere to unite and speak in a collective voice -- one that demands stricter enforcement of copyright regulations and consequences for those who bootleg our work.

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