Over the weekend, I posted on Facebook about how some of my designs had been removed from Society6. I thought it was because some of the main images I used were from the internet and not originally my own. So, it didn't bother me that they had to be taken down. What bothered me was that as I did some further reading, I found a site that basically said the act of making a collage is illegal unless you have 100% of the rights to each image.
But according to this site, I should have never filled my entire wall-- regardless if I sold anything or not.
Photo by Elsie Galdamez.
13 months of breaking the law and I didn't even know. But what makes me mad is that people out and out copy characters from TV, movies and books and can make a living. When I was reading, I came across a sentence that basically said, "It's not a matter of what's legal, it's a matter of what you can get away with."
So, I was very discouraged. I think the biggest surprise was that newspapers can only be used from a certain time period. So that was another thing I did wrong on the two pieces that were removed from Society6. I used newspapers from last year instead of the vintage ones I do have access to. I'm not even sure if they are in the proper time period, I'd have to check them again with this article. I love working with newspapers so this was a real let-down. One of the reasons I started using newspapers in my work was because I saw an account on Instagram that will remain nameless that "upcycled" old books and printed transparent images on the pages. I thought, "Hey, I could do that." So I have probably been doing that process alone for about five years.
Along with the car picture, this one was also removed.
So, I wondered how upcycling fit into this because that's like another form of collage depending on what you're doing. I found an article about upcycling clothes and the law, which was very interesting. It gave examples of how three designers modified clothes and how each one could possibly get into trouble. It makes you want to crawl into a whole and not be creative anymore. I have at least six containers of things I have cut out and saved and I thought I might as well throw it all away. (I did not. That would make me feel worse.)
Going forward in making new projects, I found a list of websites that provide images in The Public Domain that are free to use that are also copyright free. As I have taken thousands of pictures over the years, I can use the Public Domain images in combination with my own, which is fine and dandy, but what about what I've already done-- especially my sketchbook for The Sketchbook Project? Well, at this point, now I was/am paranoid about every scrap piece of paper I have, but I spent a lot of time and money on this book and it is due soon. I would not be able to start over. I didn't know if my book would be acceptable, so I went to their digital library of sketchbooks. In the search bar, I typed in "collage" and there were over 4000 collage-style sketchbooks, so I think I'm going to be okay. I looked at some and it was obvious that some of the pictures were from magazines/tabloids. So it just goes back to what people can get away with.
Even though this has been frustrating, it has been a real eye-opener and I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner. I've had my work on display in two galleries and nobody said anything. But after all the reading I've done, I think it's because the rules surrounding what can and can't be done seem wishy-washy. It's either, don't do it all, or do it at your own risk unless you use public domain images, or your own. However, it is better to have found this out now, rather than to have a lawsuit later.
I created this image for my sketchbook using images from one of the websites on the list and I also used some library cards, which I think should be okay, but who the hell knows?
Once my sketchbook is done, I will still make collages out of the things I've saved, but I think it will have to be for my own entertainment. I have another sketchbook that I would like to fill, but that's just for myself. So I will probably work on that and I have to fill the wall back in since I took down some for art shows. In terms of future art shows, we'll have to wait and see. I am also debating on removing my other work from Society6, although that seems to be okay so far.
I hope this helps any other collage artists out there to not make the same mistakes and to keep moving forward.