The Art Thief

LiLi Xiong, Staff Writer

Creating art takes real work: mustering creative energy, putting an excessive amount of time into projects until they feel right and usually working other jobs since, in reality, being an artist usually is not a reliable source of income. Yet it brings artists joy to be able to pursue their creative passion and share their art with the world. It only makes sense for artists to be able to own what they create and to control who gets to profit off of their art. 

As reported by BBC, there have been serious issues with digital art thieves as more artists have begun to publicise their work on social media.  While social media has proven to be a great platform for artists to have a large and diverse audience, the aspects of ownership and copyright can get muddled. To support artists, it is crucial for the public to know how to consume art ethically.

Art thieves have been especially prevalent on Twitter. For instance, an artist posts a picture of their work, and perhaps someone comments that they would love to see this design on a T-shirt. This is when the situation gets messy. Certain bots are programmed to pick up on comments like these. Once a post has been detected, the bot generates a website selling merchandise with the design printed on it and comments that link under the post, tricking people into thinking that it’s an official product. This whole process isn’t just a few criminals in their basements earning a bit of extra cash out of art thieving; it is a mass network of bots creating website after website, manipulating consumers and tearing apart the art community.

Nonetheless, there are a few ways to protect artist rights in a world where it is so easy to take advantage of their hard work. If a consumer is unsure of whether a product was created by a certain artist and not an impostor, they should contact them. Quickly direct-messaging the artist to make sure that it really is their website can be really helpful to them. They might even have been previously unaware of what was happening to their art. 

Another important aspect of protecting artists’ work is becoming educated about how copyright works. When anyone creates something, it is automatically copyrighted, meaning it would be illegal for others to use, copy, modify or publish their work without permission. However, fair use allows people to use portions of copyrighted material without permission for certain cases, including criticism, education or news reporting, which clearly rules out art theft as being under the umbrella of fair use. Therefore, there is absolutely no loophole for art theft to be considered legal and hence the situation deserves much more legal enforcement.

Art theft is blatantly illegal, and there should be more of a push toward criminal investigations into these bots. In the meantime, individuals should be informed about these struggles and learn to appreciate art ethically, helping to conserve the already fragile industry. Art consumption must support the artist, not obscure bots. It is our responsibility as consumers to defend one of the most beautiful methods of expression against large-scale malicious commercial endeavors.