Artwork by Adam Turman
Art thieves no longer have to break into museums or galleries to pilfer and try to resell their loot. They just go to Google images and click.
Minneapolis artist and illustrator Adam Turman found out he'd been robbed Thursday, when a friend sent him an image Turman had created for a breast-cancer awareness campaign -- an image he'd found on T-shirts and baseball caps being sold on zazzle.com under the label "Ben Hur Designs."
"The guy found the line art somewhere, used Adobe Illustrator to live trace it, and added a little pink, but it's pretty obivous it's mine," Turman said. Making it doubly low is that "I'm not making money off this design, I donated it, and we donate the proceeds we get from selling shirts, too. And now this other guy is trying to make a profit from it."
The Internet made it easy for Ben Hur to lift Turman's design, but it also came to the rescue, in the form of social media. After Turman exposed the fraud on his Facebook page (1,805 fans), many of them jumped to his defense and took action, posting Ben Hur's phone number on Turman's page and "shame on you" messages on the offender's Facebook page (31 fans) and website.
By mid-afternoon, the merchandise had been removed from Ben Hur's Zazzle page. A call and email from the StarTribune made to to the site asking for comment were not returned.
"This has happened to me several times, and usually I'm alerted by a fan," Turman said. "Uusally they'll take it down when I ask, but I have had to have a lawyer do a cease and desist."
Ryan Fors of Burnsville, an art director and designer, knows how Turman feels. In January, while searching Google himself to find out more about how people find the website featuring his art, Fors discovered paintings he'd made of rappers Kid Cudi and Drake had been lifted off his site and plopped into another guy's Flickr account, where he was trying to sell them.
Artwork by Ryan Fors (top image) and as it appeared slightly altered on another website (bottom)
When Fors contacted him , "the guy actually said that because he had made tiny changes, like drawing a new arm, that technically he didn't plagiarize," he said. Still, the stealer took the images down from his site, but when Fors has occasionally checked back, they have been back up.
"I know I could put a watermark on the images with my name, but I want people to be able to see the work without that," he said.
Turman said this kind of thing is pretty common and getting more so, with culprits often using sites like zazzleand cafepress.com to sell goods featuring the stolen designs.
The only good thing to come out of it, he said, is the fan reaction. "It shows that people really care about an artist they like and that's special to me. I totally love that."