[[reprinted from the old blog site 5/22/07, with comments]
There is a lot of sloppy business going on in the SL art world, and it affects artists’ rights.
This morning I received chilling reports that full permission copies of artworks were “stolen” by a gallery employee, and that these might be used to replicate unauthorized editions of artworks for sale. I did some research, but there was no evidence outstanding, so I will leave the accusations of theft in the anonymous zone for now. This is the second time this week I have received a copyright violation notice. The first time the person who posted it would not identify the accused, but asked us to boycott an exhibition, leading me (and some others who were in the recipient list) to suspect that it was a publicity stunt to get people to look at the artists' work.
That is an old ploy in the real world. If it’s controversial then people come to see it. I have seen it done in business and on campus, with the same person organizing an event and also the protest.
Whether a crime was committed this time or not, it raises disturbing issues that the SL art market needs to address:
Artists are giving gallery owners full permission copies of artworks without any written contract, and without even knowing the real life identities of the alt they are dealing with. This is because the dealers say they need this to set up a vendor. If you are playing a game, maybe you don’t need a real identity. But if you are creating in SL because you own the copyright to works you create here, then get real. And let’s leave the TOS discussion for the next time.
Sometimes it is only copy permission that is given, so the dealer can make copies and sell them. Is this a good reason to create Limited Editions under the artist's control? So you know the provenance of every copy you make? Would it help if the gallery only had ”no copy” originals to sell?
When the vendor (the scripted object that dispenses the artwork) is not owned by the artist and under their direct control, the opportunity for abuse exists.
There are other ways that artworks can be stolen for resale. In the case of simple unscripted image prims, it’s easy enough to take a snapshot of the art and paste it on a new object. The safety feature for the creator of the original is that the creator field will have the new creator’s identity, so it’s clearly a stolen image. In the today’s case, if the Gallery allowed someone to have a full permission copy of the work, and that copy was abused, then how will those copies be differentiated from authentic ones? They will be exactly the same.
If the dealer has an exclusive license with the artist, then the dealer will know to whom authorized copies were sold. The owner of a genuine copy would be able to produce a provenance for ownership that goes back to the exclusive gallery.
Does this mean that the Art Police now have to go around looking for copies of pirated work, and demanding provenance proof from collectors, and from civilians who are just decorating their virtual walls?