You are blissfully cruising the internet when you see something that looks familiar but not quite right so you take a closer look and find out... much to your surprise... that someone has taken your artwork, perhaps modified it or composited it with other works. Or perhaps you get an email from a friend or family member that points to the problem.
So what do you do? What can you do? Simple. You call out the dogs...right? You unload on them... you demand justice... you demand... what... exactly? They won't respond to emails, cease and desists or possibly even loosely packaged anthrax (that's a joke Homeland Security) and you are outraged. So again... what do you do? Well... unless you have a big budget or your sister is a super lawyer that won't charge, you aren't going to do much if anything about it in the real world. I know. It's not supposed to be this way, it's not fair, it sucks, but in general... that's life. Let's take a look at the real world misappropriation of Intellectual Property (IP) and why it's really difficult to police or combat on a personal level.
There are legal remedies available to us when our IP rights are violated (note: I am not a lawyer) but the problem is... can we afford those remedies? What can the average artist with no legal representation and little budget for legal battles, discovery and other legal challenges do when their artwork is stolen? The tough answer is really... nothing. Why? Simple logistics for one thing. What if they are in another country or on another continent? How are you going to handle that if email doesn't produce results? Even if you get their physical address are you going to drive/fly over and knock on their door? I'm not talking about what remedies are available... I'm talking about the PRACTICALITY of enforcement of your IP rights or copyright.
The first time I saw this involved stolen web work but the worst was my Beginners Guide book where one editor guessed that for every book sold three were downloaded via piracy. In fact shortly after the book was released and upon Googling the name there were more links to the pirated free downloads than buying it and they came up first! What was I going to do? Hire a private investigator to track them down so I could... what... scold them? According my editors it was all part of the process. Piracy will always be here so you just live with it and combat it when you can. It's all a numbers game anyway and I can't exactly claim to be free of bad judgement in the past without realizing its consequences for the author/artist. Life tends to educate us the hard way in these kinds of matters.
Yes it takes money directly out of the pocket of the artist involved and the worst part is a lot of us don't have to look far to see someone that pirates digital material. Sometimes all it takes is a look in the mirror and until we start realizing we are the problem not much will be done or get better concerning piracy. It is a far removed problem low on the radar for most of us because until you face it happening to your work... you don't understand the totality of it. No I'm not going on a crusade or become a data detective but after a while misappropriated artwork is no longer flattering... it's just not cool.
On the flip side what happens if you are called out for stealing art yourself? I had a former employer imply just that... knowing I had not done the bulk of the artwork in question. What this employer didn't realize was I had permission to use the artwork with no attrition because no attrition was given to anyone. How did I prove this? Providing a copy of the email exchange with the author (also a friend) that granted permission to use it. Why reinvent the wheel? Plus it was awesome artwork. Thank goodness for that artist morgue and keeping up with every scrap of digital paper trail possible! I've heard of disgruntled employees but this is the only time I'd faced a disgruntled employer. Plus the hassle of defending my work to my employer on that particular project. Live and learn once again.
If misappropriation happens to your work or you are unjustly accused of it yourself then set your self- righteous indignation aside as it won't help. Take a deep breath and explore your options with your legal budget in mind and do seek legal advice if at all possible. Knowing your options, even impractical ones, are better than guessing. Hopefully you will never experience this creative downer.
M.D. McCallum (warlord720) is an International Award Winning Graphics Artist, 3D Animator, 3D Sculptor and Published Author. He is a staff writer and reviewer for the CG Industry news section here at Renderosity.com. You can find more info on M.D. at his website.