Be a conscious shopper, artists deserve to be baid

10:22 AM

I didn't think I would really write a blog post again in 2019, at least not right after publishing my 2020 calendar printable and disclosing that my artwork cannot be redistributed for profit without my permission.

See shortly after hitting publish, and going about doing my typical business online "chores" it came to my notice that a cheap seller on Amazon US was selling pillow cases using MY rickshaw pattern :

How this person came to be in  possession of that particular design is still opened to speculation, I have a feeling they actually bought that pattern art print from my Society6 shop a few months ago and scanned it to then have it printed on cheap covers. But it also cold be that they took a screen shot somewhere and used it on their pillow case mock up. If that is the case, the people buying it from them are likely to have a very poor quality print on their cushion cover.
This is not a new phenomenon in the art world, I know quite a few artists on Society6 and Redbubble who had their work stolen and sold on Amazon and else where.

The big problem is that when a cheap fraudulent seller does what happened to my Rickshaw pattern is that the artist who by the way STILL own all rights to the design gets paid NOTHING, and sadly can't even sue because copyrights law aren't really making it easy for a small artists to get their due. A big company like Disney has an army of lawyers that can sue and claim settlement for art theft, but little businesses like mine have zero chances.

Frankly, this is exposing a bigger issue to me. Forget art theft, as bad as it is, it's not what is worse. What's the worst is the general public and mass consumerism that has made this kind of petty crime thrive.
See, that particular pillow cover is on sale on Society6 for a MRP of  29.99$. Regardless the discount S6 decide to offer to their customer my royalty fee for LICENSING my art to them is 10% of the MRP.
In this particular case, this means that as an artist, I  make 2.99$ each time they sell a throw pillow. Note that if you go to the Society6 link, you'll see that the price is for the pillow cover AND insert, this means you get the pillow with it.

Now look at the art thief listing on Amazon in the picture above again. They offer just the pillow cover for 6.88$

For that price, it's been printed for cheap, probably in a factory in China, and the seller probably pockets about half the retail price in profit after paying Amazon their dues to have the product listed to.

The problem though is that the consumer feels they are scoring a bargain, and that enables a lot of people to criticise Society6, Redbubble and even big brand box stores for selling "overpriced" goods.

Let's be clear about one thing! 

Just because you can't afford to buy something doesn't mean it is overpriced to begin with. Then if you really really really want a specific design or artwork on an everyday item like a pillow case, mug or phone case, you MUST realise that whoever designed the artwork deserve to be paid. 
This means that you should look at the retail price, and estimate who gets a share of the price you pay : 

The retailer that sold it to you, the company that shipped it to the store you bought it from (or directly to you) the person that stitched the pillow cover, the cost of the raw matterials (textile fiber, ink...) the cost of manufacturing the fabric and yes, the artist that created the art work that goes on your product. 

As a rule of thumb, most small businesses who do not rely on massive bulk sales take a bigger profit margin. At any rate, you can safely estimate that the retailer will get anything between 10 and 50% of the price at which they sell an item for. in the world of art licensing for products, artists royalty fees are usually between 5 to 20% of the retail or wholesale price. For most goods, just take that margin off the price of the product as sold by the manufacturer. 

In the case of those cheapo pillow covers, we are going to estimate that the Amazon sellers pockets 50% of the retail price as profit margin, so he probably bought it as a finished product from the manufacturer at 3.44$ out of which the price of the fabric, ink, zipper, packaging and shipping to the seller should be covered, looking at it, you realise that unless the manufacturer mass produce, there is no way it can be sold at 3.44 whole sale for them to make a profit, and you can also deduct that at this price, nobody is going to care paying the artist the 30 cents due to them.

Pretty art and prints on a product is not free and is not a due

Let's face it, if you want a product that looks good, it comes at a price, and having a special design on it is a LUXURY. 
You don't need the print for the item to be functional, you just need the print so it looks pretty and let you express your individuality. Expressing yourself through 3rd party created art and design is NOT something that is vital to your survival...period! 

This is something I recently chatted about with one of my manufacturer. We were talking about how in general, fancy phone cases are on the decline in India and you only really see them for select models in shops nowaday. That manufacturer of mine, is also in the art licensing model, and he told me he no longer bother making phone cases for anything but iPhones anymore, because these are really the only people who bother buying a quality case. 
I pointed out to him that sadly there are also a lot of iPhone owners who have no problem spending 50-60k on an iPhone but will then go buy a "designer" phone case from a street side stall for 200 rupees because they are too cheap to go get one for 600 with the same design. 

What these people do not realise, is that the 200 rupees phone case has a stolen design on it. I have myself seen the artwork of artists I admire such as CatCoq on these cheapo cases. She also by the way license her art to a print on demand company based in India that does sell cases for about 500 rupees. 

When I hear people say thing like "I can get that cheaper" I cringe, because this stems from a entitled mindset that makes them believe that the only thing that has value on their purchase is the utilitarian value. Protecting your phone is something that should be done for 200 rupees, having a cushion to protect your back should not cost more than 10$, it's the same mindset. 

I agree, if you factor in the purely utilitarian aspect, prices on these good is low, but then you should accept that it will come in plain old boring solid colors.
Hery Ford knew a things or two about it, remember his famous quote "You can have any color as long as it's black". 

He wasn't in the business of designing custom cars for people, he is the one that developed a mass production technique to bring the car to the masses and made it less of a luxury and more accessible to a wider range of people. He knew that allowing for color customisation would cost extra, and I have a feeling people who were buying the Model T back then didn't care much about paying extra for those. 

SO why have we gone toward a world where people think it's their birthright to get a grumpy cat printed on their mug without paying the artist for that privilege? 

Artists have a real job

I think this stem from that ridiculous myth of the "starving artist" or that the notion that being an artist is a hobby, and you might maybe eventually make a live of it IF you are lucky. 

The reality is that none of the artists I know made a living of their craft because they were lucky. They made a living from it by simply realising their worth and demanding that people accept said worth (or get lost).

For every product you buy, be it home decor items or the pack of cereals or cookies you get at the grocery store, a graphic designer (possibly several) and/or graphic artist has been involved. Big companies hire product marketing company to make the product look good to you so you buy it. In the case of a big company like Kellogg's, they sell enough breakfast cereals that the cost to you consumer is close to nothing, but makes no mistake, a tiny percentage of the price you paid for your cereals has been going to the person who designed the packaging. 

When a big store like IKEA has a line of textile prints going out, they paid for the exclusive right to use that artwork to the designer, and that price is carried over in the retail price, this is why they sell boring white pillows cheaper than the one that have a print on them. 
Other shops around the world might buy commercial licenses to stock images, or work directly on a licensing model with an artist. Again fellow artist CatCoq is one of those designer who did licensing deals with shops like Target, or Urban Outfitters in the US. The licensing fees due to her and included in the price the customer pays each time they purchase her work on a home decor item. 

I'll say it again

Every single one of my artwork and design is the product of several hours of work. That rickshaw? Hand painted by me in watercolor (as you can see in the first picture). My watercolor artwork then goes into my scanner, and I spend time editing it in Photoshop, to remove the paper background, fix the paint bleeds, and speck of dusts that got scanned along with the artwork, last but no least, I alter the color balance. In fact, several of my art comes in different color palette.

That elephant sticker in the picture above? The original on paper is purple, like the big elephant on that sticker, the pink and blue ones are recolorized version that I also skilfully arranged to look nice as a whole on that sticker design. All done in Photoshop, all of it accounting to time spent on creating something. Digital doesn't equal less creativity or less work, it's just different and it takes time in the exact same way it takes time drawing on paper. 

I love my job, but if you tell me I have no right to call it so because of the fact I enjoy what I do, I'm going to ask you to introspect and ask you why is it that you think a job should alway be something you hate doing in the first place. 
Earning an income isn't something that you MUST do out of something you HATE, you can do it out of something you LOVE. 
So if you are stuck in the mindset of hard work must be hard and make you hate your life, stop thinking that anybody who is earning their keep doing something fun is to be criticised, instead start working on yourself and love yourself enough to affect a change in your life. Don't punish the artist who created amazing art by telling them "I can find it for cheaper" and then process to buy something from an art thief. 




For the reccord, I am in the process of filing a copyright infringement complaint with Amazon to have that particular throw pillow cover removed. It's harder than you think it is to get it done, and there is no guarantee that that seller will not sell it elsewhere or under another name. 
The solution is for everyone to shop more consciously, and rethink what is a bargain, because if it looks too good to be true, it probably is and someone is paying dearly for it. 

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3 comments

  1. It's so unfortunate that people do this. It looks as if they took it upon themselves to add the "Bollywood" tag to the design too. I hope you get a good response from Amazon. While it may not deter this seller from popping up elsewhere, getting them off Amazon will at least limit the damage quite a bit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just got an email from Amazon telling me they removed that listing, a small victory!

      The seller is still selling all the others, I can't report them for art theft because I have no proof for these, it's up to the other artists to find out they've been cheated.

      I seriously wished there were more dire consequences for copyright infringment, the guy only had that listing taken down, if he is found guilty of other art theft, they might take his account down, but then what? He can open a new one under another brand name and keep selling.
      Ideally there should be a system put in place where Amazon can fine fraudulent sellers and a settlement to go automatically to the person who lodged the complaint, that would be a deterrent to selling counterfeit items.
      Big companies like Disney and Marvel have the means to go after intellectual property theft, they can afford an army of lawyers on their payroll, small independent artists cannot, and that is sick.

      Delete
  2. Great to hear that Amazon took down the listing! Hopefully with small steps like this, and consumers being more aware, this happens less frequently over time.

    ReplyDelete

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