a few months last fall, Hannah Price was famous. More
precisely, she was Internet famous.
October, the website the Morning News posted a feature
on "City of Brotherly Love," a series of
photographs Price, 27, had taken of men who catcalled
her after she moved to Philadelphia in 2009. Only the
site displayed Price’s ambiguously titled works under
a more pointed, but click-catching, headline: "My
news outlets from Slate to Jezebel to Buzzfeed took the
bait. More than 15,000 articles and blog posts followed.
what came out of all that attention for Price? Gallery
invitations? Photo sales? Commissions?
really," she said. "It kind of stayed on the
music, for example, goes viral, the benefits can be very
real — see the Philadelphia-based label Mad Decent,
whose single "Harlem Shake" sold hundreds of
thousands of downloads on iTunes last year and was due
even more in YouTube royalties.
visual artists, the perks of online celebrity are less
clear. And the downsides — from images taken out of
context to copyright infringement — are painfully
a lot of benefits that can come out of your
self-promoting online. It can also lead to people
misusing your work," said Andrew DeGraff, 35, an
artist based in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties
neighborhood whose work has been ricocheting around the
blogosphere for the last year. "The tricky part is
that it is out of your control. Unless you can
capitalize on that 15 seconds of fame on the Internet,
it can go right by you."
first caught the attention of film bloggers in December
2012 with his series of intricate "movie
maps," visualizations of the plots of films like
work appeared on Slashfilm.com, the blogs of Wired and
Fast Company magazines, and numerous lesser-known sites.
got his permission, but not all. Worse, he found sites
selling unauthorized prints of his works made from
screen shots. DeGraff was upset about the piracy, but
even more dismayed to see his name on shoddy,
now has a cease-and-desist form letter on hand, which
threatens a lawsuit if the sales aren’t stopped
been effective," he said. But he worries that one
day it won’t be. "The problem is that really
backing up that threat is tough and expensive."
DeGraff doesn’t regret the attention. His own website’s
traffic increased a hundredfold nearly overnight, and
the limited-edition prints he was offering for $85
apiece sold out within three days.
work also caught the attention of executives at Disney
and other movie studios, who contacted him about
commissioning works for their offices.
DeGraff had kept his work offline, those opportunities
might not have come up.
have to watch out and protect yourself. But you also
have to allow yourself to be vulnerable with it, and
that’s just part of the game," he said.
everyone shares that sentiment.
photographer in Philadelphia’s West Mount Airy
neighborhood, Bradley Maule, 37, for one, has filed half
a dozen lawsuits — at least three of which have been
settled — against companies and individuals who he
claims over the last decade have nabbed images from his
include a car dealership, Stephen Colbert, The Inquirer’s
former parent company Philadelphia Media Holdings, and
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.
Maule licenses his images for a fee, he said, he has to
protect his livelihood.
do so, he often puts subtle watermarks on his images of
cityscapes — for example, Photoshopping in buildings
that don’t yet exist, or adding his website
information to a billboard within the photo.
lawyer, Conor Corcoran, said such watermarks are
crucial, not just because they can help prove ownership
of an image. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act,
artists can get damages up to $25,000 if someone removes
serious about protecting an image should also consider
registering it with the copyright office for $35,
Corcoran said. If a work is registered within three
months of release to the public or prior to
infringement, artists may recoup up to $100,000, plus
attorney’s fees. Without either a watermark-tampering
claim or registration, artists can collect only the
money they actually lost due to the infringement, which
may not amount to much.
problem is, most artists don’t know that. They’re
not copyright lawyers," Corcoran said. "But in
a city like Philadelphia, designs are brazenly stolen
from individual artists all the time."
mentioned Philadelphia-based Urban Outfitters, which has
been named in more than two dozen copyright-infringement
suits since 1995, some of which were settled out of
court (although in most cases, the alleged infringement
originated with an outside vendor, not within Urban
Outfitters’ design department).
Outfitters did not respond to multiple requests for
Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, a nonprofit under the
umbrella of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s
Arts and Business Council, sees about 100 inquiries a
year from visual artists concerned with copyright
issues, according to the council’s legal-services
director, Miriam DeChant.
we grow up on the Internet, we have more of that earlier
in an artist’s career," she said.
some cases, she can connect artists with lawyers who
work on a pro bono or reduced-contingency basis.
said that copyright-infringement cases usually are
litigated on contingency, meaning artists pay lawyers a
percentage of any award rather than up-front fees.
STORY CAN END HERE)
good news, because viral success, and fallout, can be
Kensington painter Mike Geno, who quickly made an image
of bacon strips lined up in a heart formation for a
Fleisher Art Memorial fund-raiser.
began making prints of the work, Bacon Love, in 2009. To
his surprise, it became his best-selling image — and
his most stolen.
thinks they can take whatever they want off the
Internet," he said, noting that the image appears
most often as Facebook and Twitter avatars. "It’s
all free, because it’s not worth anything. Our
attitude toward images is a lot looser, because it’s
easy to make or steal" using technology.
noticing the infringement, Geno began periodically
searching the Web for his images using the site
Tineye.com, and sending out cease-and-desist letters as
when a licensee, in the midst of negotiating a price for
use of the image, vaguely threatened to simply replicate
it, Geno decided to register it.
like insurance," he said, though he has his doubts
about the process.
actually consider it karma’s way that, once I do this,
no one is going to be interested in this image