• March 31, 2013
  • Posted by Marc

A Major Step In The Fight For Street Artists To Protect Their Copyrights

A street artist creates a piece of original art and then puts it up in a public space for others to enjoy for free.

For most artists, this is a selfless act.

A fan comes across a piece of street art, takes a photograph of it with their mobile phone and then shares it with others on their Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook feed.

For most street art fans, this is also a selfless act.

A photographer visits street art locations around the world and takes hundreds of photographs of every single piece of street art they can find. The photographer then photoshops and crops the photographs so that only the artwork is seen in the frame, often making it look like the photograph is an actual print made by the artist in their studio. The photographer then sells these photographs in bulk to a middleman who then licenses them to a variety of poster companies and online print shops around the world.

For us, this is not a selfless act.

The reality is that most street artists have no idea that their art work is being sold commercially. And when they do find out, they don't have the financial resources to fight it. Because the large poster companies have thousands of images being licensed to them, and because they trust their suppliers, they often don't know who the artist is in the image they are selling, nor are they aware that the artist isn't being compensated from royalty payments made to the middlemen.

For years this practice of selling cropped street art photographs commercially has bothered us and countless artists.

Recently, we were invited to participate in a talk in New York sponsored by Art.com. The event is scheduled to take place this Thursday evening. But after agreeing to do the talk, we soon learned that Art.com currently offers hundreds of photographs of street art for sale, many of which the artist who's work is featured was never contacted nor compensated by the supplier. 

We made Art.com aware of this issue and told them that we could no longer participate in the talk without this matter being quickly addressed.

To our surprise, and to their credit, Art.com agreed to speak with us about this very issue. 

Today, we're pleased to announce that Art.com, the world's largest online specialty retailer of high-quality wall art, has agreed to remove every photograph of street art in which the artist whose work is in the photograph is not being compensated, and does not want photographs of their street work to be sold in this manner. 

While we're still working out the details, in the coming weeks we will be working with Art.com to help identify the artists who's work is being featured in over 600 street art photographs currently being sold on the site. If the artist wishes to have the photograph removed, Art.com has agreed to remove it. If the artist wishes to replace the existing unauthorized photograph with a new photograph or image that they own themselves, we will be assisting the artist in putting a licensing agreement in place for their work to be sold on the site.

We are very pleased that Art.com has agreed to work with us and the artists to provide compensation back to the artist if the artist wises to have their work sold. After speaking with the team at Art.com we feel strongly that their intentions are good and they do indeed want to take an active role in stopping photographs of street art from being sold commercially without the artist's permission. 

The agreement with Art.com is a major step in stopping this growing form of profiteering from street art. 

We hope that this will put other sites on notice, and that they will follow Art.com's lead and remove commercial photographs of street art from their sites as well.  We have always believed that artists have the right to be compensated for the commercial exploitation of their work no matter how that work was publicly displayed. It is because of this that we have never run advertising on our website even though we could have made hundreds of thousands of dollars by doing so over the years. 

So in the spirit of cooperation with art.com we hope you will join Evan Pricco from Juxtapoz and us this Thursday evening. We'll be there and we hope you will as well. 

Marc and Sara Schiller, Wooster Collective