Artists whose work is stolen by scam websites have learned how to fight back, Polygon reported. Online stores whose bots steal original artwork to sell on their websites will soon find themselves in the ring with giants like Disney and Nintendo. Intellectual property law is a powerful thing.
Independent artists who publish their creations on their social media accounts have increasingly had that work stolen and used for profit. The culprits are nefarious online entrepreneurs who write computer programs or bots that search social media comments sections for phrases like “I want this on a shirt!” The programs then download the referenced image and create a page for it on the store’s website. The page shows the artwork laid over a T-shirt, hat, or other clothing item and the store sells it without the artist seeing a dime, hoping the artist won’t have the funds to pursue a legal battle.
In the last few weeks, according to Polygon, artists may have found a powerful weapon to use to fight back: mega-corporations like Disney and Nintendo. Several artists have posted intentionally, poorly drawn fan art of copyrighted characters like Mickey Mouse. They included captions requesting their followers to comment “I want this on a shirt!” in order to set the bait for art thieves—and it worked. As of press time, reports are rolling in that the sneaky retailers have begun posting and selling shirts of the copyrighted creations. Should Disney catch on, online stores may find themselves stepping into the ring with a much more powerful foe than its previous victims.
This strange twist of fate and business is due to a specific part of the legal code known as intellectual property law.
What Intellectual Property Law Protects
Depending on the type of creative work being developed, artists can protect ownership of their creations and prevent other artists from stealing them by securing a patent, trademark, or copyright.
Patents usually apply to inventions that have a certain degree of specificity. For example, you can’t patent a wrench, but you could invent and patent a new type of combination worm-screw and pin that improves the functionality of an adjustable wrench.
Trademarks tend to cover logos and company names, which is why you can’t just call your company Coca-Cola® to improve search engine traffic.
“The government states that [a copyright] grants automatic protection to printed works, software, artwork, photos, video, and practically everything on the internet once it is ‘fixed in any tangible medium of expression,'” said Dr. Michael G. Goldsby, the Stoops Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship and Executive Director of the Entrepreneurship Center in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University.
Why It’s So Important
So why does intellectual property law matter so much?
“Without the ability to protect intellectual property, entrepreneurs wouldn’t have as much incentive to create some of the groundbreaking products and services they do,” Dr. Goldsby said. “After all, why would I invest a lot of time and money into developing something if someone could just copy it?”
The United States government has decided that not only is this an important enough decision to merit its own law, but it’s actually so important that it’s been established in the Constitution. Dr. Goldsby referenced Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which reads, “The Congress shall have power to promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors exclusive rights to their respective writings and discoveries.”
“Now, it’s not a perfect system, but there’s no doubt that the intellectual property system has spurred innovation,” Dr. Goldsby said. “If you don’t believe that, compare the innovation in countries that respect intellectual property with those that don’t. The contrast is startling.”
Or, just ask an independent artist whose latest innovation is to encourage mega-corporations like Disney to legally pursue stores that are profiting from stolen work.
Dr. Michael G. Goldsby contributed to this article. Dr. Goldsby is the Stoops Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship and Executive Director of the Entrepreneurship Center in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University. He earned his doctorate in Strategic Management and Business Ethics from the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.