MINI PENNY: When Artists Steal from Artists

Friday, October 7, 2011

When Artists Steal from Artists

I suppose I should preface this by saying that I am extremely frustrated. Not at anyone, of course, except the persons who have so distastefully stolen my work — Highball Halloween and the folks involved in the Short North art council.

The backstory: During Halloween of 2009 I had a press pass for this new annual event. The press pass meant that I was able to get right by the catwalk to shoot the costume contest and fashion show. No pay, no big deal, and it was a good time. I shared my images via Flickr with the Highball folks (and each image was watermarked). That night I also took many personal photos of my friends who also attended the event. These pictures were for myself and my friends/family to enjoy and share the night with each other. They were in no way, shape, or form part of the special catwalk area for press.

I know that I have mentioned my good friends Bob and Jer before, and that year they teamed up with some other folks for this amazing dead circus group. Their costumes were amazing and detailed — so I snapped a photo of them in front of my apartment (at the time I lived right on the main strip).

Fast forward to today. I was walking up High Street when I looked at a sign in the window of a vacant storefront. It was a giant ad for this year's Highball Halloween celebration (maybe 3x5 feet foam core?). I was really shocked to see my image, pixelated and poorly altered (because it was stolen from Flickr), on their ad. I scoured for my name and it was nowhere to be found. In the corner the ad read "Banner design by Sevell+Sevell." To the left of my image was another image of Bob and company in the exact same poses but in every day clothing. I was really confused at how this ad had come to be.

Sorry for the reflection, but it was behind glass! Roughly near Warren & High
The first thing I did was call Bob. He informed me that the group got together and shot the street clothes version after the people behind Highball requested for him to do a few months back. He sent in the image and didn't hear anything from them. I told him about the sign and we both agreed that it was royally f'ked — on top of everything else they neglected to give Bob and the other characters any credit as well.

I was pretty much fuming the entire ride home — how dare this "arts council" and a group that places such a strong focus on local arts steal one of my photographs? Had they called me up a few months back and asked me, heck, I wouldn't have held any issue with it (and I could have sent them a high resolution so that they wouldn't have a gross and pixelated advertisement...). It makes me bloody angry that they took this without asking, chopped it up, and tried to pass it off as their own.

When I got home, the first thing I did was go to their website searching for an email address, Twitter, or another way of contact. I should have been surprised to find that there was no way to contact them on their website, and had to find them on Facebook to find a phone number.

In the meantime I did the math — they publicly posted that their "VIP packages" had sold out. With 250 VIP packages at $65 a pop, they had already banked $16k. Please also realize that they charge vendors, have a boatload of sponsors, and charge everyday people $5 just to walk down the street (which has always been ridiculous). This means that Highball is making a huge profit and not paying artists a dime.

I called the number half expecting to not have anyone pick up. I was wrong and a man answered — at this point I was livid and went on to tell him about how wrong it was for them to steal my image. Right off the bat this guy knew what I was speaking about — almost as if he had planned for this phone call to happen. "Oh yes," he said, "we just loved your image so much."

Excuse me? Just because you love something means you can steal it?!

I continued to tell him that the image was not his to use, especially for an advertising campaign (which in turn makes PROFIT for them). I noted that had Highball asked, I probably would have been okay with it. But now that the deed was done and no credit was thrown my way, I was extremely unhappy. His next statement infuriated me.

"Oh right, I remember. Your photo had a little signature in the bottom corner, right? Oh, we must have accidentally cropped it out!" I'm almost positive that at that moment, either his pants were on fire or his nose has grown to epic lengths. He was telling me that he knew my image was watermarked, yet they didn't care enough to keep it, contact me, or even add a little "photo by" caption. This guy was very familiar (or directly involved) with this little marketing campaign.

To any artist, obviously the correct way to handle this would be pay. When I made mention of this being the solution to his infringement, he replied that paying the artists "isn't in the spirit of Highball."

Paying the artists isn't in the spirit of Highball. Think about that coming from an arts council.

So now I ask Highball, what is in your spirit? "Artists" stealing from artists?

Eventually he agreed to take the poster down (which I will be checking thoroughly tomorrow). Still, I can't shake the fact that this was extremely low and shady, especially coming from a group of people who like to pretend like they give any cares about the local community.

This year's Highball is scheduled on the 28th, which is my last night in Columbus before moving to Chicago on the morning of the 29th. I had planned on attending. Now, I most certainly am not and imploring other Columbusites (-ians? -oans?) to do the same. And I'm obviously not planning on keeping quiet about this issue either.

Edit // They do have a twitter after all! Tweet @highballcbus and let them know that this is not okay!

Screenshot taken 10/8/2011 at 10am — 13 hours after I contacted them.
Edit #2 // Also, I've come to find out their they are also using my image on the Short North Arts District's website. They apparently do not think that internet and print advertising are the same thing.  

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