Sunday, June 29, 2014

Street art & copyright infringement

Earlier this year I was having a drink in a local Fitzroy bar when a brochure near the door caught my eye. There were two reasons for this 1. It was designed well, and being a designer I am apt to notice these things, but more importantly 2. it strongly featured a photograph of one of my paste ups.

For about half a second I felt flattered. Flattered changed to angered pretty fast and I couldn't understand why a designer would think it was OK to use an artists work like this. I understood that the paste up at the centre of this was in the neighbourhood of the apartments the brochure was advertising, but the work was so closely cropped that the local area had become irrelevant.


My work was pretty much the selling point here and I had no say in it whatsoever. It was something I would have never agreed to represent with my image.

Having not been in a situation like this before I asked around about what rights I had as an artist who puts their work on the street. The views on this were mixed and I sat in limbo for a while wondering if it was worth doing something about.

It wasn't until this article about copyright and street art was published by that I decided I was DEFINITELY within my rights to do something about the misuse of my work.

I decided to write a letter of demand to the developers of the apartments - asking that all images of my work be removed from their website and that I be compensated for the misuse of my image. I contacted Arts Law to make sure everything I had in the letter was correct and in order. They were extremely helpful - making sure I had worded everything correctly, that the sum of money I was asking for was within reason etc.

I sent the letter off and within a week I had a call from the design agency responsible. We talked at length about the situation. From their perspective they were trying to capture the vibrancy of the area (the inside of the fold out brochure featured a map and many images of the local area) and assumed that any work in a public space would be OK to use in this way. In actual fact, this is only true of permanent sculptures. It doesn't matter if the work is legal or illegal, signed or unsigned, it is an infringement of copyright to use images of an artists work for financial gain.

The design agency and I came to an agreement, I was compensated and even though it took quite a bit of my time to chase this up, I felt it was worth it.

I would encourage any artist who has had their work used without their permission to take a similar approach - stand up for your work and spread the word that this is not OK - from my experience most people are just not aware that it's wrong. (Except surely those people selling photos of street art at markets and ripping off artist's work and selling it on Redbubble, but that's a whole other story and these cases should definitely be pursued!)

And for those people wishing to use images of street art in their advertising - we are a pretty small community here in Melbourne and it's really not that hard to find out who artists are - local councils and local galleries are a good starting point for identifying and getting in touch with an artist whose image you may want to use.