Saturday, April 26, 2008

On the Horns of a Dilemma

Last week brought news of a very disturbing incident. My friend Luc Latulippe and dozens of other illustrators discovered that their work had been printed in a coffee table book that was being sold internationally for $100. The publisher, located in China, had 'scraped' the contents of a blog that features interviews with illustrators accompanied by examples of their artwork. You can read the whole story of this malicious deed on Luc's blog.

Also last week, my friend and fellow classic illustration archivist, Glen Mulally, alerted me that someone on Flickr had appropriated hundreds of images from our collections of classic illustration scans. Worse than the appropriation was the fact that this person was reposting the scans without any of the credit lines, dates or publication information many of us on Flickr have gone to great lengths to include.

This is not the first time we've had to deal with this sort of thing. Some people don't seem to be able to appreciate that others have invested huge amounts of time and money into scanning, organizing and posting this material out of the goodness of their hearts for visitors to enjoy and learn from. We must look like fools to these ignorant, unscrupulous creeps as we go along our merry way, tossing gold nuggets on the road for anybody to pick up.

And there's more: A while ago I discovered a blog where the person had downloaded a batch of my scans, removed all the type elements (even the hand painted artist's signatures) and was offering these doctored images as desktop pictures for others to download. "Stole a bunch of these from Today's Inspiration - help yourself!" was the note he included on the post. Fortunately, once I explained to this person that by redistributing artwork without proper credit attached he was creating Orphaned Works, he apologized and took down the scans. He hadn't really thought about the consequences of what he was doing.

All of this and more has left me in a blue funk about what I began here with the best of intentions. I now wonder if I haven't been overly generous and naive about the ignorance and greed of those opportunistic profiteers that lurk among us. I had hoped to encourage the creation of a community of kindred spirits to celebrate the accomplishments of the talented artists who came before us. Instead I find I may have inadvertently assisted unscrupulous individuals who think nothing of taking advantage of my good will.

If this blog and my illustration archives haven't already been 'scraped' I can only imagine its just a matter of time. With over 600 subscribers to the TI daily scan email list and an average readership of 1,500 visitors a day, I know that the vast majority of you - the overwhelming majority - are here for the same reason I am. You want to learn about this work and the artists who created it. You find enjoyment and inspiration in discovering and studying the forgotten treasures I present here Monday to Friday each week. Unfortunately a tiny minority of visitors who lack a sense of ethical responsibility for what we are fortunate to be able to share here might force me to shut all this down.

It was pointed out to me the other day that Robert McGinnis has shut down his website because of internet abuse and has asked another site that was displaying his work to remove it. I find it very upsetting to think that I might have been partially responsible for that because I have a set of McGinnis scans on Flickr.

So I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. How do I continue Today's Inspiration, something I feel very passionately about, while protecting this material and the artists who created it from the abuses of the conscienceless?

At the moment, because I don't know what else to do, I've removed the option to view my Flickr scans at full size. But I've been reading that its possible to navigate your way around that security measure if you really want to and besides, now all the perfectly nice people with whom I want to share these scans can't study the artwork in greater detail. I'm no tech expert and am feeling extremely frustrated by this situation. If you have any advice or opinions on the subject, I'd love to hear from you.


  1. Anonymous6:14 PM

    How about transparent watermarks?

  2. That was suggested to me by someone on Flickr yesterday. I really hate those watermarks... they really distract from the artwork, and it would be one more step I have to take in preparing the scans . But I may have to resort to that. Thanks for your suggestion.

  3. I understand your concerns. It's very infuriating and frustrating to face the disrespect and greed from those people getting in the way.

  4. Dear Leif,

    I would first like to say thank you for all the effort that has been put into this site, it is truly a magnificent resource of great illustrations as well as art history.

    As a current student of illustration I frequent many art blogs (lines & colors, illustration art etc.) in search of knowledge and inspiration, so when I first discovered this site about five months ago I was immediately enthralled by its content. I remember examining the mounds of pictures which were all foreign to my eyes, looking through your entire Flickr catalogue (I believe it was 3000+ pictures back then) over a single weekend, enjoying every minute of it.

    I am ill equipped, in the literary sense, to recount my experience in seeing the impressive linework of Robert Fawcett for the first time but, I will do my best to try, complete awesomeness! I have no doubt that there are many others who share these positive reactions to the many works that grace this blog, and speaking for myself, these reactions are multiplied many times over due to the great number of diverse and talented artists showcased on this site.

    This website has offered me great insight into illustrators and works that I was previously unfamiliar with. It has been an incredible tool in influencing my art and boosting my knowledge leading to my growth as an artist, and for that I thank you.

    Unfortunately, I have no solution for the infractions committed upon your site and others, it is always a bad few who ruin it for the many. I can only offer words of encouragement and thanks. It might not always be easy to preserve knowledge and art, but in my eyes it is always noble. You have created a great thing for many people. Thank you.

    James Marik

  5. This is such a worthwhile effort on your part and a benefit for everyone. Would there be a way to have us log in in a traceable way. I hope there is a way that will not incur much effort for you.
    I have enjoyed seeing the art & learning more about artists whose work I know.

  6. Anonymous11:57 PM

    Goodmorning Leif,

    As a frequent reader of your blog I have to thank you for all the hard work you put into this blog. I love to find a new post of this site every day!

    The problems you face with these pirates are not easy to deal with; the only thing I can think of is to put the hires pictures behind a paid server and the lowres on the site for free. I personally don't care about the hires pictures, as long as I see them in a fairly good quality. But, even with this solution, I'm sure that anyone who wants to publish a book with this copyrighted material, will pay the fee, just to to get there.

    In my very humble opinion, there's just no way you can safeguard the idea of the blog from people who are greedy. Greed is a disease in our western culture; no one person can cure it!

    I hope to encourage you to continue the work you put into this blog (I started many, but have yet to keep a regular post on any of them) for the people who really get inspired from the blog!

    I can only repeat what I've said before: THANKS!

  7. I don't have a solution either as most anything you do will lesson the quality of the experience.

    Designers are faced with this problem constantly - by those not really thinking it through, and those stealing in full knowledge. The more popular the designer, the more it happens (obviously). Several Illustrators I know gave in and hired legal council to take over.

    Whatever you do, I seriously hope you continue offering this fantastic resource. There are only a handful available and it'd be a crying shame to lose even one.

  8. As a frequent visitor to your wonderful blog, I'd be willing to tolerate watermarks rather than see the whole enterprise go into hiding.

  9. Joe Taylor5:54 PM

    Thank you Leif for all your work and your dedication to sharing. When I discovered your blog I remembered why I became an illustrator in the first place. I think James Marik said everything I feel and I agree with dmck. I look forward to this site everyday to kickstart me like a cup of coffee.

  10. Anonymous8:15 PM

    I think your restriction to smaller sizes is a good move. You might work around it in specific cases by showing close up details, instead of showing large scans of the whole work.

    You've done a great service for the artists whose work you've shown. I certainly thank you as well.


  11. Leif, the playwright Ibsen once wrote that "to live is to war with trolls."

    People who do hard work, people who take the initiative, people who have original ideas always make themselves vulnerable to parasites like this. As a practical matter, It really doesn't matter what the law says. The real question is whether you decide to let such loathesome people veto what you do, or whether you will keep on doing it, notwithstanding the fact that the wrong audiences exploit and benefit from what you do.

    I have worked in Hong Kong (where this book was apparently published) and Beijing, and with the US Trade Representative in Washington, trying to stop the scofflaws who deliberately steal intellectual property. It is very frustrating. Whether you're talking about patents, copyrights or trademarks, China is by far the most notorious country in the world for stealing the work product of others. The same indignation that you are feeling has been felt for decades by software companies, designers of handbags and shoes, manufacturers of electronic products, even whole cars. In fact, you are feeling only a small portion of the frustration and aggravation that others have felt. Billions of dollars of other people's hard work helps keep the Chinese economy afloat.

    The countries which export intellectual property have been trying for years to impose international trade sanctions on China and other IP violators. That's what the trade wars are all about. That's what most favored nation trade status and the olympics and boycotts are about. But it's very difficult to achieve. They have changed some of the the laws in China at the national level, but they are largely disregarded, especially at the local level.

    The primary hope is that as these countries develop economically, and become net exporters of IP themselves, they will have an economic incentive to support the IP laws. Until then, it is a largely lawless world in all but the most egregious cases.

    Unfortunately, the world of e-commerce on the internet is almost as lawless as the world of international trade. In both cases, there is no sovereign to enforce the law. Think you're unhappy? Tiffany is suing ebay right now because over 75% of the "Tiffany" products sold on ebay are counterfeit. Tiffany feels that these poorer quality imitation goods are harming its reputation, and so far the answer has been "tough."

    Like Tiffany and Microsoft and Gucci and Motorola, I think you need to take whatever steps you can to minimize the theft and exploitation, but in the end people who do the work must decide whether they are going to continue to do it despite the free riders and the thieves who claim credit for it. I think it is a very personal choice.

  12. Hello Leif,
    Unfortunately I do not have a solution to the dilemma that you face, but I can understand your hesitation. Let me say, though, as a ripe young illustrator, your Flickr page has a constant tab on my browser, and on the browsers of many, many other students at Ringling College of Art. I can say that my illustrations have vastly improved from studying the masters before me and I know countless other young illustrators can say them same. I hope you continue your tremendous contribution to the art community, but it is ultimately up to you and I will respect whatever decision you make.
    with much respect and thanks,
    -francis vallejo

  13. It's a dilemma, that's for sure. The digital age offers a myriad of possibilities, but has some pretty serious drawbacks.

    I am an illustrator with my work on several sites. I just assume my work will be pirated. I continue on, however, because my rewards have outweighed the losses.

    Watermarks work for a lot of people. Making your images not able to be seen at full size on Flickr seems to be a good solution as well.

    I thought I knew a lot about those who came before me. Then I found your site. It really is a "Daily Inspiration" for me. It gets my juices flowing and inspires me.

    Whatever your solution, I am thankful for what you do--I think it is crucial--do and hope you hang in there.

    David apatoff's comment is pretty much the rest of what I have to say. I didn't feel I needed to restate it.

    Thank you for what you do.

  14. I don't know what to say. Your site really is a daily inspiration to me, and you have introduced me to such wonderful artists and their work. I do understand your concerns, but it would be such a shame to see your site go away.

  15. I don't have a solution either, but I did want to say a quick and very heartfelt thanks. I LOVE your blog. Your daily inspirations are something I look forward to.

    I am one of that quiet majority that are deeply grateful for the images and background information you share. I would definitely pay to continue to be on your list if you chose to go that way, but one of the things that I have loved, is the ease with which I can send a link to your articles or flickr images when I get so excited about something that you've posted, and I want to show it with people that are not as familiar with the rich history of illustration and how much it has defined our world.

    Anyway, just, sorry about the pirates, but thank you thank you thank you for being out there.

  16. Michael Lark12:22 PM

    Leif - I hate those watermarks, too, but they'd be better than not being able to see the images at full size. It's pretty frustrating to see those tiny scans of those beautifully detailed Fawcett pieces, and not be able to look at them "up close"!

    Obviously, you've got to do what you feel is best. As someone who has his work published on a regular basis, I fully expect that at least some of it is going to be stolen, borrowed, or reproduced without my permission. It's just par for the course. But, in my experience, the people who would do such things are still a very tiny minority. And they're going to find a way to do it no matter what safeguards I put in place.

    Whatever you choose to do, I hope you know how much your blog has come to mean to me and the others who check it out on a daily basis. Thanks for ALL of your had work!

    - Michael Lark

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  18. Dear Leif

    Can only echo the thanks of other contributors regarding your dedication and hope that someone can provide an answer. As I've now reached retirement age(!) and decamped from the UK to France, I have a bit more time to look back at the 60's and 70's when i was at college training to be a technical illustrator for the Ford Motor Company in Dagenham and devoured every publication that had examples of American illustration. I have seen several old friends on your blog and I'm preparing some scans for you of car illustrations from the UK that you may be able to use. Your blog is what the web community is all about and I'm sure you have everyone's support in whatever you decide to do. Thank's a gain for a brillaint site-long may you continue

    Regards, Neil Whitehead

  19. Leif, I followed your link to the French flickr member who was scooping up all your images, and what should I find but images that I had posted and images that prof mendez had posted as well. You've got to hand it to this guy-- he sure gets around!

  20. Hello
    Can only echo the remarks of everyone else. Thanks for all the effort you continue to put in everyday. Now I've reached retirement age and decamped from england to the south west of France, I have a bit more time to revisit the past when I was at college training to be an illustrator with the Ford Motor Company in Dagenham and eagerly consumed any publication that had examples of American illustrators. My mother though it strange that I wanted to see her Woman's Own magazine - it was only because they reprinted stories from Redbook and other American weeklies! Seeing Bernie Fuchs, Andy Virgil and Bob Peak's work as fresh as the day it was printed has inspired me to pick up the paintbrushes again. Unfortunately I can't offer a solution. I hope you can continue with your great blog - it's a shing example of what the web community is all about.
    Regards, Neil Whitehead

  21. Many thanks to everyone for the encouraging words and thoughtful opinions. I can see that there is likely no easy solution to this problem, and I'm determined not to allow a few bad apples ruin this for, as I said, the vast majority of perfectly nice people - you who have commented represent that majority.

    I've had some technical advice by email and will consult with a couple of friends who are knowledgable about website coding and so on. Perhaps there is a way to incorporate a cursory degree of security to hinder those bad apples from running roughshod over everything. My biggest concern is that the artists and their families who naturally have a vested interest in this material are protected.

    Hopefully I'll figure out a way to grant access to all my full size archived scans again soon.

    Again, many thanks to you all! :-)

  22. Leif,

    I, like the vast majority of those who visit you regularly, look forward to your daily posts because of our love of illustration and not to exploit your hard work and dedication. Unfortunately, like them, I have no answer to your question. The internet is the wild wild west, and there is no law that can police this place.
    I'm not even from the same planet as Robert McGinnis, so it's hard for me to imagine how many hundred fold are his problems when compared to mine. However, from the Stats Page of my own web site, in the past 28 days, a list of places from around the world where people are visiting my site from.

    US Commercial
    US Educational
    United Kingdom
    Russian Federation
    Non-Profit Organization
    United States
    New Zealand (Aotearoa)
    US Military
    US Government
    Czech Republic
    South Africa
    Saudi Arabia
    Croatia (Hrvatska)
    Old style Arpanet (arpa)
    Viet Nam
    Korea (South)
    Dominican Republic
    Hong Kong

    That's just crazy. I have to assume that some are visiting for nefarious reasons. But what to do about it? How to police it? Hire a lawyer in Slovenia?

  23. That sucks. I am facing the same issue, myself. I have also had one of my own photographs stolen and vectorized for inclusion in a book - was at a high-end art book store, and found myself staring at my own very unique photos traced exactly in Illustrator. Sucked major.

    I am also looking at adding possible watermarks. As someone who works all the time with stock photo comps, however, I know just how easy it is to remove certain watermarks (even if only temporarily for comping)... and I rather shudder to think just how large and involved my watermarks would have to be, to keep my images free from theft...

  24. Hi,

    I discovered your blog about a month or so ago (first time leaving a comment) and at the time, I knew that there were was a certain graphic ‘style’ that appealed to me, but I did not know what it was called, what artists were associated with it and so on.
    Since then, your blog has been a great educational resource for me. I now know that the 'style' I like is called mid-century illustration and I am slowly starting to learn about the various artists and which ones I like best.

    While it is horrible how some people will blatantly steal the work of others, I truly hope you keep doing what you are doing.

    I've learned so much (and can only assume that others are learning as well) that it would be terrible to let such horrible people ruin such a good thing.

    So go ahead and us watermarks, or put a bunch of lines through the image - what ever works for you. As long as I can get a feel for the artist, along with you entry, that will be good enough for me.

    Thanks for taking the time to share this blog with us!!!!

  25. Man, this makes me mad.

    I have amassed a very helpful personal archive of the works you have posted, Leif, and it has, and continues to, be an inspiration to me. I am at a loss to imagine ways to control this theft, though.

    I sadly tend to think of it as the price of using he internet, and all of that is still very much in the process of shaking itself out.batman

  26. Hello Leif,

    I just wanted to write a note of thanks for all the work you have done in creating each 'Today's Inspiration’. As well as documenting a mostly unrecorded history, the posts provide inspiration for projects at hand and a reminder of the diversity of approaches other artist have taken.

    For the working artist, (and I suspect that includes the bulk of your subscribers), the high res images on Flickr are really valuable. I often pour over them to try and figure out media and technique - Oil or gouache? Wash or scumble?

    An aside to other illustrators and rights holders: I understand the frustration about being ripped off (it has happened to all of us), but you don't want to be so rights obsessed that your work never gets out there. I usually let the client who has paid for an image use it as much as he can (Yes, you can print a BIG poster!") and anyone who wants to tattoo one of my pictures on their body can do so free of charge (this request came in last week).

    But mainly, Leif, whatever solution you work out about this current concern, you have a lot of artist-fans who appreciate what you do!

    - Ken Nutt/ Eric Beddows

  27. Hi Leif,

    This is my first comment on your blog but definitely not my first visit. I would like to join everyone else in thanking you for hours of you work you put into this excellent blog!

    Regarding your dilemma with the folks in China - I think David Apatoff seems to have a clear view of the problem and eventual (economic)solutions. I do hope that you continue to post the larger images but understand that you should not feel taken advantage of.

    Let me take a devils advocate point of view for a moment - I assume the loss that you worry about for the artists or their families is economic? If that is the case why doesn't someone here in he US publish a legal compilation of their works? It seems your scans being posted on TI do good and bad.

    The good is that a lot of excellent illustrative work is preserved and available to students who might not ever see it or benefit from it.

    The "bad" is that you have demonstrated a demand (read economic opportunity) for these works and facilitated an unauthorized use. (By the way, do you always clear posting images on your site with the creator or heirs of the creator? If not some could argue that as a misuse?)

    But back to the "demand" issue - many fine books are not being reissued. (Andrew Loomis' books come to mind, classic copies of the Famous Artists School Correspondence Course book is another.)

    How far does your "stewardship" of these artists work extend? Isn't keeping them "alive" in the public consciousness enough? If the demand exists for these works in print doesn't that beg the artists or families to take the next step? I agree if money is to be made on this art it should be the artist or their heirs with the first shot at it. But still their comes a point where art becomes part of our culture and society - thereby entering the public domain. For example - how long can Warner Brothers hold on to Batman?

    Thanks for sharing your love of great illustrators and I hope you can find a way to continue. Overall, I do believe that your conservation efforts are beneficial for all concerned.

    Take Care,

    Jonathan Gilpin