This morning, I found out that a Queensland gallery had used an image of mine, Under And Over, from my Lake Eyre series, to promote a fund-raising exhibition. The invitation had been sent to a list of recipients that included several of my collectors. The image was also used, badly cropped, on a web site associated with the event. I'm usually pretty relaxed about how, where and why my work is reproduced, online and off. As is highlighted at the bottom of the right hand column of this blog, I'm a supporter of the ideals of Creative Commons – the words and images on this blog are all licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License – but that doesn't mean that I'm up for a free-for-all when it comes to my rights.
The way the Queensland gallery appropriated my image without permission and without any respect for the terms of the published Creative Commons license stuck in my craw. Firstly, the work was being used to promote a fund-raising event – the objective of which was to buy guns for a private girls' school's shooting club. This is not 'non-commercial' under the terms of the Creative Commons license and thus subject to my permission. Secondly, the image, which was downloaded from my web site, was low res', slightly blurred and placed within an unflattering design promoting not only the gallery but also the use of guns for sport (not exactly an issue to which I'm sympathetic – for the record, my image was intended to be ironic). I was given no opportunity to object to this. Finally, the image itself was altered by the addition of a strip of mismatched colour at the top. Even if one put this down to clumsy graphic design, it altered the image and was yet another breach of the conditions of my Creative Commons license.I don't know the gallery's director well. I dealt with her briefly once, a few years ago, when she was learning the ropes at a gallery I was in the process of leaving. Today, when I called her to express my objections to the use of my image, she was dismissive and unapologetic. When I emailed her afterwards, specifying the ways in which she had breached my copyright, she offered an insincere apology and tried to assure me the invitation had not yet been sent out. Of course, it had – that's how it'd found its way to me via not one but several of my collectors. She then tried to 'stroke' me by telling me, "I'm a big fan of your work, and consequently, your fan base has grown as everyone loves the image."I am not exactly an unknown artist who should be bloody grateful for any exposure I get. Quite the opposite. The series of works of which the image featured on the invitation was a part had been the subject of a nationally televised TV documentary and had toured several regional and national galleries. As far as I was concerned, she had callously and clumsily appropriated a widely recognised name (mine!) and image and exploited the existing, widespread interest in both for commercial gain. And for the record, I don't give a toss if a gallerist or anyone else is a 'fan' of my work. I'm an artist, not a pop star or TV personality. I don't need to cultivate a 'fan base'. The interest of my collectors – and those of you who read this blog regularly – is a lot more complex and committed than that. In the end, I sent the gallery director a much stronger, more insistent email, instructing her to 'cease and desist'. I copied it to the pit-bull-like, big city law partnership I use to escalate these sorts of battles for me. Less than ten minutes later, the gallery director offered a formal, public apology, albeit without being specific about how she would do this.
In the art world, as elsewhere, words are cheap.