Friday, February 13, 2009

The Artist-Gallery Contract and Intellectual Property Theft

[[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?

1 comment:

  1. 9 comments:

    Sasun Steinbeck said...

    I've really got to wonder about this model of gallery owners requiring full-perm copies of everything so that they have complete control over comission splits, etc. This just opens the door for some scary abuse, and I don't see it as absolutely necessary. Let the artists retain ownership of their art. One gallery that hosts my art does this. The artists there are supplied with a commission split script that they are asked to put into their prims for sale and I am not being put into the horribly uncomfortable position of being asked to give full-mod rights to my work to anyone. This is completely and utterly out of the question for me since I have ONE sculpture I sell that is my sole income. The risk is just too great no matter how much I may trust the gallery owner. Nothing personal!

    I also curate a small gallery and let the artists own their prims for sale. They can come update their art as they see fit within the wall space they are allocated, which is nice (and convenient for me!). Granted this does not let me tweak the positions of the art around as I wish I could do sometimes, but I'm not about to ask them to do something I won't do myself! Like most small galleries, I don't ask for commission so that's not an issue.

    The decisionto surrender a full-mod copy is indeed with the artists in the end, but I worry that they are implicitly (or even explicitly) being pressured to give up permissions to their work so that they will be in the popular galleries... or be told to go elsewhere.

    In this particular case I'd be very interested to find out whether any abuse HAS ACTUALLY happened or not. For all we know this gallery manager is honest, deleted all of the former gallery's art from their inventory, and is simply moving on to another gallery to manage. Has there been any actual abuse? Unless proven otherwise IMHO we should give this gallery manager the benefit of the doubt.

    May 22, 2007 5:45 PM

    Esch Snoats said...

    There has only been one case where I handed over my art to a gallery owner to put in vendors for an exhibit, but the advantage I have with selling limited editions is I'm giving him exactly the number of copies I'm selling, and they are all sold original with mod/no copy/trans for perms, so I don't have to worry about any theft.

    There are no sure fire ways to prevent theft, but handing the work right over into their hands with full perms is just asking for trouble. If I were ever told I had to do that I would walk and never look back because in SL you have to prove you're trustworthy and unfortunately given the nature of the game, it's far too easy to screw someone over if the opportunity presented itself.

    May 22, 2007 5:50 PM

    DanCoyote said...

    Seems there is a need for artists to get more "professional" in terms of paperwork. One might think that galleries would need to do this first, but this is a bad idea because galleries have a built-in conflict of interest. Artists in RL or SL cannot really rely on galleries to "take care of them".

    Most gallerists have the best of intentions of course, but there are always some people who will game the system to their benefit. In SL, a new form, this has many meanings, none of them good for atists.

    Here are a few practical steps you, as an artist can take to protect yourself.

    #1. Insist in dealing with real people with real accountability. (this cuts both ways of course as artists must also have accountable identies).

    #2. Cover your ass with agreements. Here are some possible ways to do this at: (what I do is alter the appropriate contract, make a website of it with password protection and get the gallerist to acknowledge that they read and understood the terms)

    #3. Install your own art in any gallery and make it for sale so the funds go to the artist. Let the gallery trust you to pay their cut.

    Small caveat:

    I am not a lawyer and don't want to be one, the contracts at that URL are passed on as a friendly sharing of artist resources. Use them as you see fit, alter, change, as you see fit at your own risk.


    DC Spensley - DanCoyote Antonelli

    May 22, 2007 6:00 PM

    Morris said...

    I agree wholeheartedly with Sasun, who was of immense help in making my place safe for artists to control their works while giving me as a gallery owner the security in knowing that revenues will be shared honestly (and automatically!). This no-nonsense approach, IMHO, builds respect between artist and gallery. No room for hijinks.

    Paperwork and contracts are all fine for those who want to delve into that; me, I just was guided to a great gallery vendor script that splits revenues. (Tremali Lightworker's vendor, in case you're interested. It's sold at Tremali's gallery.)

    On issues of intellectual property theft..... I'm not in the 2D "flat" art world in SL, but if I was I'd be scared stiff over people taking snaps of pieces, cleaning them up and reselling. It's a little harder to do this with sculpture.

    Good post, good responses.

    Morris Vig
    Oyster Bay
    Oyster (40, 169, 82)

    May 22, 2007 6:14 PM

    CMP / N. Severine said...

    Handing over full-perms ANYTHING, whether it be artwork, scripting, texturing, etc., is INSANITY - it's such a huge risk. Unfortunately, people new to SL will be very vulnerable to exploitation. It sickens me to think that gallery owners would have the NERVE to demand that artists hand over their artwork in the first place.

    Not only have I been involved in the art world in SL for awhile, I've run a shop and dealt with mall owners who charge rent for vendor space. If any of them told me I had to hand over any of my creations, I'd have laughed in their face.

    Why don't gallery owners follow the same business model as mall owners? That is to say, charge a per-week or per-month rental fee, invite the artist to a group, and allow the artist to set up his or her own work?

    I don't know how gallery owners came up with the idea to have the artist hand over their work to begin with. To a fledgling artist trying to get a start in SL, the offers they get might sound like good ones.

    For what it's worth, I am going to try to get the word out through the Art & Artist Network group. If anyone has any ideas to help further this, please send me an IM in-world. :)


    May 22, 2007 9:11 PM

    Esch Snoats said...

    Yeah there is always that risk of someone taking a snapshot of your work, but there are ways to at least (on the surface) cover your ground and make sure people know your work is genuine.

    1) Make a texture that has your logo or avatars face or name or whatever, then place that on the back of each piece. If someone comes and takes a snapshot, they won't see the back, so it will be easy to determine if a piece is original or not.

    2) There's always the easy "look at the creator of the prim" thing to see if it was the artist who created that prim or someone else.

    3) All of my work so far has been either horizontal or vertical, so I always have 2 sides of dead space that you never see. Here I add my avatar name in big text. You don't see it on the piece, but if I know someone stole my work, I can easily identify that that texture of theirs is a forgery.

    Granted, none of these will stop them, only digital watermarking will ensure more thorough protection, but you have to pay for that.


    May 22, 2007 9:14 PM

    static. said...

    Ok so all this talk about "I would NEVER give away full perms copies of my works! That's just INSANE!" really makes me feel a whole lot better about my SL art dealings... Because I have done that on at least 2 separate situations without a second thought. And I feel especially good about myself considering I was one of the artists at that gallery mentioned in the blog and have to live with the thought that somebody out there could still be holding on to full perms versions of several of my artworks, just waiting for an opportunity to plagiarize me for an extra buck. And not only that, but my reputation could be at stake: here I am selling so-called limited editions and there could be somebody else selling the exact same ones for cheaper and in unlimited quantities. I've seen this happen before, where someone's item vendor got leaked to an av who started selling them without permission. In response, the creator had to just start giving away the items and vendors to essentially devalue the item so that at least the perpetrator wasn't profiting from their dishonesty. I would hate for that to happen to me or any other artist. It's not like I can just pump out another equally good set of images.

    So yes, quite a lovely feeling. I guess some of us have to learn from the school of hard knocks.

    -Static Schultz

    May 24, 2007 4:11 PM

    Marc said...

    I don't understand why any of these artists need to show their work in a gallery on SL. It seems to be antithetical to the whole project. If an artist can't find any better art to make than just reproducing the flat boring art you see in RL, perhaps they shouldn't be making art in SL at all. Nine times out of ten, galleries in SL are just plain boring. People in SL should be thinking about how they can work past the gallery, perhaps a virtual version of that old "beyond the white cube" saw.

    July 7, 2007 11:32 AM

    violetta leshelle said...

    interesting articles, interesting posts. I opened an SL gallery about tow months ago and had all the questions posed here. I have a 'classic' type of gallery, for now I have only shown photography, oils and drawings and after seeing how some of these works are being exhibited in SL I decided I did not want to simply make it a one prim object. Mainly becuase I think the works are shown in a better way, coming off the wall a little bit and also because this way I could make it an actual object specific for my gallery. The works I sell in my gallery are always sold, either as 'singles' or in a limited edition when it is photography. In order to guarantee my buyers that sales will not go over the set edition I use a script. And so far this seems to work fine. In this article and also in the reactions you speak about people, gallery owners or staff, that are (can be) deceitful towards the artists. I would like to add another perspective :-)Considering I take my work seriously as a gallery owner and my wish is to make a good exhibition, I prefer to install the exhibition myself. So far, that has not caused any problems..the works I have shown in my gallery are works from artists I know in RL, they have sent me their photographs and I have done everything myself. Uploading, making in into the actual SL object and installing the exhibition. And to be honest, I prefer it that way. An exhibition sort of has to grow on is a can choose to hang some works at random, it is just not my choice. Anyway, considering all this, I was all the more surprised by the following: I was contacted in-world by an artist. He wanted to show his work in my gallery. He gave me his website so I could see his work. We agreed we would make an exhibition and I made a selection of his works. He gave me the textures (first with no perms at all, so I could do nothing, later with all perms). However, when I was still preparing his exhibition he sent me an invite to an exhibit of his work in another gallery. I went to check it out and was surprised to see the exact same works, even more so since I agreed with him I would sell his work as 'singles'. So yeah, I take everything serious on the dangers and the risks for the artists...I just wanted to add a little perspective from the side of a serious gallery owner who is not out to make money over someone else's work but whose main goal is to show art she believes in at the best possible SL way, and in fact works for her artists instead of the other way around.

    July 12, 2007 9:26 AM