AI: What a Beautiful Work of Art! Here, Let Me Ruin it for You

The image below, as near as I can tell, (I cannot read Russian) was made by Anastasia Gorbunov for a competition to encourage reading and literacy among Russians. This image won in the graphics category and was featured in an exhibition. The text at the bottom roughly translates to “Reading isn’t dangerous. Not reading is.” A wonderful message and part of the design for the competition. As intended by the artist.

Original by Anastasiy Gorbunov

Here is another version of the same image from Demotivation:

Altered by Captain Obvious

The person who made this version cropped off the original message, which is bad enough. But to take it a step further this person had to go the Captain Obvious route and add their own caption which basically describes the contents of the poster IN CASE YOU DON’T GET IT.

And judging from the comments there, people are ready to buy it! Hooray! No one knows who the artist is, or that the work has been altered AND the artist will never get a dime from any sale!

Why do people feel that they can steal/alter/sell the artwork of others? Is it ignorance of copyright law? Do they just not care? How do we combat this type of behavior?  Talk me down, people. Talk me down.

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.

Brian George

Brian George is an illustrator and designer who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. In his spare time he makes videos of Spirograph drawings and complains about doing laundry. Website: Twitter: @brianggeorge Insta: @brianggeorge If you're into what I'm doing, feel free to throw down a bit in my tipjar here: @brianggeorge

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  1. I blame attention-whoring. If they can add their brushstroke to a great piece and be the first to post it, that’s instant celebrity status on the intarwebs.

    Especially on Reddit, where you’re begging people for upvotes. “Who cares who the artist was? I posted it.”

    I’m sure there’s a measure of plain obliviousness to it as well. As an experiment I once posted one of my comics on reddit by itself, without the blog to see if it would be received better (“What is this, opinions?” vs “ooh pichurs!”). In a way, it worked, I saw it all over the place even weeks later. But the downside was that despite putting my name and website on the image, people would still misattribute it to whatever website they happened to see it on. Which turned into this interesting telephone game of tumblrs and blogs.

    I’m 99% certain that there was no malice intended. It’s sad, but people just don’t pay attention. I’ve said it before, it’s a copy-pasta world out there, and something’s bound to get lost in the process.

  2. Why do people feel that they can steal/alter/sell the artwork of others? For the same reason that they feel they can download music for free. Because they want it.

    Is it ignorance of copyright law? Maybe? No?

    Do they just not care? Yes because there are no sanctions.

    How do we combat this type of behavior? If there was a really big website like itunes or amazon where art could be downloaded for small amounts of money, some might feel guilty and buy their art. The other solution, by analogy with music, is the dongles solution. You buy the dongle with the art, and can only interact with the art when the dongle is plugged into a usb port.

    Other than that, dunno.

  3. I feel a bit uncomfortable discussing this, since a lot of what I do involves putting silly captions on pictures I find on the internet. I like to think I’m at least adding something to the narrative but I could see where someone might disagree with me on that.

    On the other hand, it’s hard to justify taking someone’s painting, removing their caption and adding your own. That just comes across as dickish.

  4. @Steve D: Appropriation has a long and varied history in art. Anything from mimicking famous compositions (think endless variations on The Birth of Venus by Botticelli) to what amounts to (pretty much) outright theft (think Richard Prince). There is a line or several lines in there somewhere which vary from person to person.
    Using the images of others to create new artwork, with a different perspective or juxtaposition is totally valid. It’s collage. Or as you put it, you add a narrative to the images and tell a story. Also, you’re funny as hell. But as you say, there’s a big difference between that and taking someone’s work, wholesale, and reusing it without permission or attribution, especially when we can probably expect to see it for sale on Zazzle in a day or two as a poster or shirt.
    I get fuzzy myself sometimes when I use Google images for my own artwork, which is why I prefer to shoot my own reference, but that’s me.

  5. I feel there is a clearer line when someone tries to pass work off as their own when it’s not, or profit from it.

    For example on forums & such I often caption funny images from the media and don’t feel the need to reference as I don’t think anyone will think I was the person taking the picture of the pope and I’m not trying to sell it.

    However saying that I would feel a bit icky doing that with a drawing or a painting….. So unless I consider photography that much less of an art form….(Which I don’t, well maybe a little ; ) Maybe I should start putting references.

    Does anyone know what the Russian words on the wall say? Is it “Fuck You” in Russian? As it has it in English.

    Oh I had an Idea for another AI. How do people whose art is not their full time job find time & motivation to be productive? I think this may be a bigger problem with us skeptic/science types because if you are anything like me you have a thousand interests

    . E.g. I am trying to paint more consistently but I have a new sciency thing I want to learn every other week. In addition to upping my exercise, a full time job & being the sort of person who likes some time to just do nothing.

    Oh and just to make things worse, I my painting style takes a lot of time 20 – 40 hrs per smallish painting. So painting seems to always be the thing I slack on.

  6. It absolutely is theft – and I appreciate mash-ups. This isn’t. It’s ripping off some art and throwing a caption under it.

    There are three sets of responsibilities I see when it comes to images online.

    1. Users shouldn’t be douches about it. Stop stealing stuff especially without attribution. We all know any artwork we put out into the world can be scanned, photographed and redistributed elsewhere, it’s not new. But doing so without crediting the artist is hurting far more than a simple re-post of the work. It bars their cool contribution from being an ambassador to editors and clients.

    2. Image creators have to defend themselves. In my opinion, the best ways to do that are to put their name on art; use programs like TinEye to check how their images are being used and call out on misuse; and put something like a Creative Commons Licence on their site so that when something gets used, there are at least guidelines about it. (the number 1 being proper attribution). Too many creators don’t see managing their own work as it gets used online as important.

    Google alerts are helpful: I found one of my paintings on a fashion blog and another on a stock market site due to alerts.

    3. Rallying others. It’s not too hard to do. These days, as Brian has done here and as the ART Evolved crew has done in the past, you can ask other artists and bloggy friends for help if someone is ripping you off, or even if you just want to know whose work it is before you start posting.

    Recently, when PZ Myers was asking for new banners, I commented that a lot of people were just lifting images without permission to make cool banners. Typical of the Pharyngula crew, they were introspective and started naming sources. (The mad dog reputation they sometimes have is usually ill-deserved, imo.)

  7. Funny story, I came across this blog post because I’m attempting to find somewhere to purchase this print that will compensate the original artist and I’m having trouble. A well-known celebrity just shared the demotivational version but I don’t want to buy it from them because I don’t want their dumb caption and I want to buy from the artist herself but I can’t for the life of me find anywhere to do so. I know this post is so, so old but any chance you can point me in the right direction? The links from above are dead.

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