Home > Legal & Copyright, Uncategorized > Three Artists Are Really Steamed: Digital Art Theft Controversy

Three Artists Are Really Steamed: Digital Art Theft Controversy

There is some dust being kicked up online over the theft of work by three Steampunk artists.  Basically, it comes down to a digital designer or design firm that screwed up.  This is messy because it just went public, it is international, and the O Word is involved – oil company.

Just because you find something online and Photoshop it into a design work does not mean copyright and intellectual property rights were not violated.  If you do digital design, you have to use your own materials or have documented open source materials.  You can’t just Google image search for stuff you like and jack it.  Especially pay attention college students!  Companies watch student and school web pages.  When students use a photograph, band logo, product, cartoon and a hundred other copyrighted works, then publish it to the web, even if it is unpaid student work for a class, letters from attorneys come raining down on the college or university which usually pays out thousands to tens of thousands of dollars in response to the letters each year.  They pay out and do not tell you.  Each letter that arrives is usually a thousand dollar bill for a college student screw up; the college or university’s legal department brings violations up to instructors to police student work and quietly pay out to avoid lawsuits.

I read through the comments section and there is an incorrect response decrying the use of their ad images of the stolen artwork in the blog post.  Showing how the stolen images were used is Fair Use as critique under US Copyright law; also it is educational to other artists and they are exercising their right memorialize the event journalistically.  The post clearly shows the original creations and how they were taken and used in the advertising designs.  Another comment about professionalism and using the internet for social media revenge is also posted.  That was kind of a low blow, a bit of revenge to disrupt the design and advertising firm’s relationship with the oil company or direct criticism toward the oil company for their client’s work.  If there has been no acknowledgement and compensation for use of the works, then I could see using the CEO’s email address to gain attention and protest the violation.  I would not have pulled the trigger on that unless I felt my other venues for recourse of compensation and credit were failing or being blocked.  The post states how the works were stolen and from whom but does not clarify if there have been any results of the artist’s campaign for attribution and compensation.  A comment to the post seems to indicate there has been legal and financial handling of the matter.

Finally, the comment that indicates attributing from whom the work was taken is totally incorrect.  Giving credit to the creators of the original artworks does not give carte blanche to use them.  Attribution does not give any permission or convey any rights of use for the art.  Permission for image rights has to be obtained in advance with a contract.


Oil Company Uses Artists’ Works Without Compensation

The Norwegian oil company Det Norske, which makes millions of dollars annually through off-shore oil drilling in the North Sea, has used several copyrighted images owned by three independent artists in its advertising and annual report, without authorization, without compensation and without attribution.We three artists–Daniel Proulx of Canada, Tom Banwell of the USA, and Frank Buchwald of Germany–who all work in the steampunk genre, were shocked to discover photos of our respective artwork in the pages of the Det Norske 2010 Annual Report, as well as in Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA’s in-flight magazine.Believing this to be a violation of international copyright laws, on 17 January 2012 we wrote a polite letter to Det Norske asking for compensation for use of our images. The oil company has thus far refused to respond.As evidence of our claim, here is Banwell’s photograph of the Defender helm.And here is the artwork from the Det Norske 2010 Annual Report.Given that the original photo is clearly marked All rights reserved, isn’t this a violation of copyright law?Above is Buchwald’s lamp as shown on his website.And here is Det Norske’s version of it with a transparent globe (and bow-tie) partially obscuring it. The smiling fellow to the left is the CEO of Det Norske, Erik Haugane.
And lastly, above is the printed ad as it appeared in the airline magazine.

This is a detail shot of the same ad, showing Proulx’s ring on the model’s leg, and Banwell’s leather helmet cradled in her arm.

The ring has been unchanged from the original.

The Underground Explorer has its tank removed, and the image has been mirrored and angled.

Can we really allow large corporations to use our artwork this way, violating our copyrights? We can’t afford to go to court against the oil companies team of lawyers, so we are counting on public opinion and your support. If you agree with us please let Det Norske know how you feel. Their contact information can be found here. The founder and CEO is Erik Haugane and his email is erik.haugane@detnor.no

You can show your support also on our facebook page.


Update: 3/2/2012  The blog post and Facebook campaign appear to have had some needed effect.  A formal apology was placed in the comments section of the blog post on 3/1/2012.

Over the course of the last few days we have received a number of inquiries and comments concerning our use of various images of original artwork in the annual report for 2010 produced by Scanpartner for our customer, Det norske oljeselskap ASA (Det norske). Firstly we would like to emphasize that any wrongdoing related to the advertising material is and remains the sole responsibility of Scanpartner and that Det norske has had no role in the creative development of the material. We therefore feel that the criticism of Det norske is misguided.
Since the matter of potential copyright infringement has been brought to our attention we have conducted a thorough review of the material in question in order to determine the origin of the various visual elements included in the illustrations created by Scanpartner. This review has uncovered that copyright protected works of some artists have in fact been used to an extent that could represent an infringement of copyright. We realize that the artists in question should have been approached with a request for their consent to the use of the material, and that they under any circumstances should have been credited for the use of their creative efforts and contributions. As a creative organization ourselves we are truly sorry for having overstepped the boundaries for permissible use and respectfully ask that all affected will accept our sincere apologies.
Even though it does not excuse Scanpartner for our responsibilities of copyright clearance, we can assure you that the wrongful use of copyrighted work is not a result of any willful or malicious intent on the part of Scanpartner or the art directors or other parties involved in the making of the material. It has never been our intention to commercially profit from the creative efforts of others, nor to misrepresent the material as originating from our own work. Our creative staff has unfortunately not paid the required attention to the legal boundaries for use of copyrighted works. This is an issue of particular importance for collage and photo montage work and we should clearly have been more diligent in clearing copyright issues before making the advertising material publically available.
As a consequence of our actions, we will now contact the individual artists whose works have been used without permission and discuss how to resolve the situation and – to the extent possible – mitigate any unfortunate consequences the use of their material. We will make every effort to credit the artists for their work and ensure that the origin of the visual elements used is clearly acknowledged.
Sincerely regards Anja Bondø/Creative Director at Scanpartner and Scanpartner management.

  1. February 29, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    Great article! Important information. Thank you for posting this.

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