How can I deal with an art copycat that just won't stop?
May 15, 2018 11:05 PM   Subscribe

Someone is making (wonky) replicas of my art pieces, taking screenshots of pictures I've posted and posting them as their own, and generally creeping me out. I'm looking for suggestions on how to proceed.

I have a public art account on Instagram which has gained momentum over the last couple of years (currently around 70K followers). I run a one-person printmaking business and post images on Instagram several times a week. I also run an online shop where I sell printed goods.

In December 2017, a friend reached out and showed me an Instagram account that seemed a bit off; the person behind the account was making their own prints, very clearly based on my work. (I'm talking EXACT copies, but hers were more derpy looking). She had taken my designs, carved her own rubber blocks, and printed them. I went through her account and found handfuls of copies, as well as screenshots of my Instagram stories (and screenshots from my personal Instagram account, yuck), which she had posted as her own, with her own captions. She even posted photos which included my own hand! (like my hand holding a pen and sketchbook, for example). I then found that she had an Etsy store, where she was selling her (crappy) versions of my work. She even made her own version of a t-shirt that I designed for a clothing company, and it was for sale in her shop. This person had a small following, somewhere around 300 followers on Instagram. I'm not sure if she sold anything on Etsy; she took down her store before I could check.

I was pissed off and creeped out. I called this person out publicly on my Instagram stories (this may have been a little rash) and then messaged her, asking what she was doing. She immediately apologized, promised to take everything down, and seemed very sorry for what she did. She took down her Instagram profile and closed the Etsy shop, and I thought that was the end of it.

Last week, five months after all this, I was thinking back on what happened, and I wondered what she was up to. Since she has me blocked on Instagram, my roommate offered to follow her and check it out. She has several "story highlights" posted on Instagram, about 80% of which are either direct copies of my work (again), or screenshots taken from my own Instagram stories. She also posted her version (copy) of another artist's work (an account on Instagram that is similar to mine).

The picture that made me feel the ickiest was a photograph of this person's desk, where in one corner she had framed a crappy copy of my work, in the other corner another crappy copy, and on the desk were a handful of prints drying (you guessed it, a third crappy copy). I have screenshots of everything.

I'm not sure how to proceed. I've told this person to please stop, and I thought she had. Apparently not. I know her name, age (around 20), and location.

I don't know if this is relevant, but I've recently received notifications about attempts to get into several of my accounts (Instagram, Facebook messenger, and my dept. of revenue account). This could be completely unrelated.

I have not registered an official copyright for any of my work. But I will consider it if it could help with this kind of situation.

Am I overreacting? I feel pretty violated, and I want this person to realize that what they're doing isn't okay. I also want her to get help because this doesn't feel like healthy behavior. I just really want her to stop. I know this kind of thing is common, especially when my art is on such a public platform. But this has gone on for at least 5 months (probably longer) and just feels so icky and personal.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Can you find out what her adres is from her online presence? I would start by sending a strongly worded cease and desist, and if that has no effect, consult with a lawyer for advice.
I've had this happen to me before ( in the EU so lawsuits are less common ). In the end i decided that it was not worth my energy to pursue as my copycat's following was so small, they probably weren't making any money from the fraud, and they just seemed like a sad uninspired person, more unwell than ill-intentioned. A few month later they disappeared from the internet and i had forgotten all about it until i read your question.

Good luck, i know this is frustrating, but i would pour out your energy into new, even better work rather than giving it to her.
posted by PardonMyFrench at 11:45 PM on May 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’d get a website that has the URL of her name. In the about section, explain you have a copy cat stalker and this blog is devoted to her. Every time she does one of her crappy rip offs of your work, post a side by side comparison of it there. Have some fun with it and do a critique if you like! Send all of your followers there. Every time someone googles her name, this will be the top site. Employers, future boyfriends, everyone. Eventually she will be begging you to take it down. You can show her the same courtesy she has done to you and ignore it or be the bigger person. Gah, I hate thieves.
posted by Jubey at 12:48 AM on May 16, 2018 [12 favorites]

Personally I would report her to Instagram for impersonation and get her profile removed. Make sure she doesn't still have an Etsy shop or a shop on eBay and if she does, report that too. You could consider making a burner/fake account to find out where she might be selling the prints, if she is.

I don't know if it's worth going as far as the other comments here suggest, but you could get a lawyer involved. I wouldn't send her mail or anything from yourself - I'd use a lawyer as a middleman and that might be scary enough to get her to stop. It seems she's not making money off your work and she clearly has no sense of intellectual property rights. I had a friend who posted her music online and someone made a profile and just stole her songs. People do shit like this because they want the attention without trying or being good at something. I don't think you're overreacting. This is very shitty of this person.

As for your accounts, I'm guessing it's a coincidence. But I would preemptively block her from all possible social media anyway so she can't find you. Make sure you have two-step verification set up on all your accounts.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:06 AM on May 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, I just reread and saw her age and I have a bit more sympathy. She’s just a kid, for some reason I thought she was a middle aged woman. I wouldn’t go full on blog name and shame like I suggested (although maybe just threatening to would be enough!) Yeah I can understand that you’d be frustrated but it’s probably the kind of thing that she’ll be cringing about in a few years. Maybe offer to show her a tutorial in your technique if she promises to stop ripping you off? She’s clearly keen and hey if your work is that appealing, teaching classes could be another income stream for you! Just a random thought.
posted by Jubey at 1:38 AM on May 16, 2018

I have a public art account on Instagram which has gained momentum over the last couple of years (currently around 70K followers). I run a one-person printmaking business and post images on Instagram several times a week. I also run an online shop where I sell printed goods.

So you're genuinely creative, your creative wellspring is showing no signs of drying up, and you have tens of thousands of followers? You're doing well at something you enjoy. Most people don't.

This person had a small following, somewhere around 300 followers on Instagram.

So that's a following of less than half a percent of the size of yours, and presumably a sales volume to match. She's making bugger-all on her knock-off efforts, and if she didn't have other people to copy she'd be doing nothing.

I also want her to get help because this doesn't feel like healthy behavior.

Her health is her own concern.

Am I overreacting?

Not so much overreacting, it seems to me, as misreacting. She's doing nothing that harms you; if what she does has any effect on your business whatsoever, it's more likely that what she's putting out will lead people directly to your work and increase your sales.

Yeah, she's creepy as hell, but that's pretty much how fans are. In your position, I'd be flagging this kind of imitation as the sincerest form of flattery and moving on.

If she were a corporation making serious money knocking off your stuff to the extent that they actually did cut into your own sales, so essentially treating you as one of their unpaid house artists, that would be quite different. But she's not that. I recommend refocusing your defensive efforts on those who are.
posted by flabdablet at 2:50 AM on May 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

You can report them for intellectual property violation. Go to their profile, click the little [...] button to the right of their username, then:
Report user
Other (yes it's hidden under two "Other"s!)
Intellectual property violation
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:52 AM on May 16, 2018 [17 favorites]

It's perhaps the most scorched-earth approach, but you could throw her to Ripoff Report. You may even consider doing this preemptively if you get the sense she might retaliate for your attempts to shut down her accounts. This podcast outlines a deeply unpleasant case where a young and immature artist tried to destroy the reputation of a more-established artist of whom she was jealous, via Ripoff Report; once that happens, there's no appeals process.

I wouldn't consider her behaviour to be coming from a place of flattery or immaturity. She may be young, but she knows what she's doing is wrong. That's why she blocked you, so she could apologise to your face, but keep on doing it. Online reputations are nothing to play with, particularly when this is your livelihood. I suggest, at the very least, reporting her to Etsy and IG, even though it's not likely to do much, and trying to document what she's doing.
posted by halation at 6:06 AM on May 16, 2018 [7 favorites]

"Around 20" isn't a "kid". "Around 20" is an adult -- a young adult, sure, but at that point you are legally responsible for yourself and you should have had plenty of Plagiarism Is Wrong And Bad drilled into your skull already. While some kind of shame-campaign of a small-time huckster would be beyond the pale regardless of their age, I hardly think it unwarranted or unreasonable to wish to otherwise protect one's own art from copycats.
posted by inconstant at 6:45 AM on May 16, 2018 [12 favorites]

My understanding is that you do not need to file for copyright. Your copyright exists when you create the work. So there's no official "filing" that you need to do.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:01 AM on May 16, 2018

You may or may not be overreacting but you are way overthinking this. Take 20 minutes to send Etsy and Instagram some DMCA takedown emails and move on with your life.
posted by phoenixy at 12:04 PM on May 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

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