Being an artist isn’t easy. One of the challenges we face is how to protect ourselves and our work from bring stolen.
Recently, a Facebook ad promoting one of my paintings was shared with me. The image had been chopped up into some wacky canvas print arrangement and was being sold on Shopify. The post had a lot of engagement, and the seller claims to have sold thousands of the reproductions.
Going through their Facebook page, I found a second painting of mine being offered in full as a reproduction, and that link took me to a different website that didn't have an apparent host, but the payments would be processed through paypal.
I first became aware of this all-too-common problem back in 2011 when someone emailed me a link to several of my pieces listed on ebay. They were all being offered by a seller in China and promoted as original paintings credited to someone named Cai Jiang Xun. There was even an artist photo of him at an easel with my painting photoshopped onto his canvas.
I had a rather lengthy incognito email exchange with the seller at the time trying to learn more about their business. They had over 6,000 listings with a huge range of art works and styles, obviously all lifted from various artists' works they found online. Through research and contacting other artists whose work I recognized, I learned that there are "fake art" factories in China where assembly lines of artists produce these images on demand as original paintings when people place an order.
Our copyright laws have no affect on them, and the only recourse we have is to report the listings to ebay or whatever site is hosting them. Generally, these sites don't care because the sellers are making them money. At most, they will maybe remove the individual listing, which does nothing to deter the seller because they just relist it a day or two later with a slightly altered title and re-crop on the image. Most of these sellers have multiple accounts too and on many different sites like Etsy, Shopify, and they're very prominent on social media. There's no legal avenue that is feasible for independent artists to pursue.
While there is a strong market for queer art, not a lot of physical galleries that carry it, so many collectors are used to buying work like this online. Even though this issue happens with all types of art and every subject matter, the primarily online nature of queer art collecting is one distinction that shows how it is especially detrimental for queer artists. So I try to educate people about buying art responsibly (only from reputable sources or the artists themselves) and never buying from anyone who doesn't credit the artist.