In the summer of 2009 I took a screen-printing class in which we learned various methods in which to applying ink to paper using a squeegee and screen. Screen-printing/Serigraphy/Silk-screening, is a print-making process, similar in many ways to photography in that you can create multiple copies of the same images. One creates several layers of the image, (usually) applying the colors from light to dark. There are different processes which allow the screen-printer to apply an image to a screen – photo emulsion, screen filler, and drawing fluid being a few – then printing the image by using a squeegee to evenly apply ink to the exposed areas. The use of photo emulsion allows for use of computer graphics or actual photographs in the screen-print.
As is common practice among screen-printers, our teacher recommended using things we found or made as well as to experiment with digitally altering them for use with the photo emulsion. Some techniques include making little marks, brush strokes, drawings, etc and enlarging them to play around with how they appeared. Using photos is also very common. However, many of the students came in with work and openly admitted to using images that were not their own, many of which were found online. Just like using an idea without citing in a paper, this is plagiarism. And while I’m certain that no ill will was intended, I still found the practice to be unethical.
However, screen-printers are hardly the worse proponents of this. There was a scandal on the website deviantart where a girl’s self-portrait was used as the cover for a pornographic video (the story can be found here). On Etsy, there have been countless instances of theft including images of products that are downright stolen by people who setup shop after shop with false listings – this I found out while I was a member of an Etsy group whose members took part in the unofficial policing of Etsy (I have yet to find a blog entry or official news item on this trend, but from personal experience, I saw it a LOT); there are also the instances of people legitimately buying items on Etsy and then reselling them and advertised as their own, such as this story about a person who bought some beads from an artist on Etsy, made a lamp with them, and then sold the lamp passing off everything – including the creation of the beads – as her own (story here). Ebay is infamous for false or stolen photographic images for sale as well.
Sadly, for photography, it is all too simple for people to steal your work. Especially if you’re working in a digital medium. That’s why I think it is so important, especially for artists, to always create original source material for their work! Artists working in mediums such as print-making, design, mixed media, etc. have to use a variety of different methods to create their work. As such, for them, it might not seem so important to take one image off the internet to use with other media. But for photographers, photos aren’t a small aspect of our work, they ARE our work. Even if you don’t intend to sell or show the work, as artists we should be in the habit of creating.
And the fact that stealing is so prevalent among artists in particular is sad. If there was a work that you really wanted to use, it wouldn’t take very much effort to ask the artist for permission. Chances are, they would be delighted to allow you use of the image! But just taking them with no word or credit to the artist, regardless of your intention, is just wrong and unfair. People in general should become better versed with the rules and laws of copyright, but for artists to be ignorant of them is really unacceptable.