When Copyright Infringement Makes Artists Feel Like Shit

I like to think about myself as a strong person. I am aware that this is toxic masculinity. Men don’t cry. Men don’t need emotional support. Men take care of themselves and don’t need somebody else to fix their problems for them. Men are emotionally self-sufficient, and their happiness doesn’t cling upon social approval. It’s funny that despite having been raised as a woman I still ended up internalizing the worst aspects of toxic masculinity while growing up. Then again, maybe those aren’t the worst parts of toxic masculinity—at least I don’t wear tactical body armor, nor do I own any guns, and I don’t do anything misogynistic. It could have been worse.

Yet despite being rationally aware that toxic masculinity is stupid, I still feel that I don’t want to perceive myself as a pussy. A “pussy,” what a stupid word, straight from the repertoire of misogynistic jerks. Why the hell was femininity associated with weakness? Oh yeah, because we live in a sexist society. Still, I don’t want to see myself as weak. I’m not particularly worried that another human being might perceive me as weak. My self-esteem and self-perception doesn’t depend upon how other people see me. Instead, this is about how I see myself, and when talking about “weakness” in this context, I mean emotional strength.

Here’s the problem—my current emotional state is something I associate with weakness. I allowed the actions of another person to get to me. I allowed another person to hurt me. Dealing with copyright infringement is always unpleasant, it’s an uncomfortable chore artists have to do. On a regular basis, we have to waste our time sending DMCA takedown notices to various websites. Unfortunately, this time the art thief actually got to me, they managed to make me feel sad beyond my usual annoyance about having to waste my time. My last blog post was about a particularly nasty art thief who used my images without permission for their logotype.

When I finally got Facebook moderators to delete her posts in which she had used my art without permission, the art thief turned the tables on me by publishing a post in which she pretended to be the victim. She complained about the evil person who was amusing themselves by harassing her for no good reason. Her loyal followers wrote plenty of comments expressing sympathy and wishing her luck and perseverance in getting her deleted images back online in her Facebook page. Oh right, and her kid also went to harass me on my Facebook page. I also have a suspicion that somebody tried to hack my Facebook page. I got some e-mails about an attempt to reset my Facebook password.

When it comes to art, creative collaboration and derivative works can be cool and fun. Some years ago, back when I knew nothing about how to take good quality photos, I posted online some of my snapshots as free stock. I enjoyed seeing what cool things other artists could make out of my photos.

Stock Usage Example

The painting is from here.

Here is an example. The seagull photo on the left is mine. The amazingly beautiful painting on the right is done by another artist. This is an example of how artists can creatively use stock content created by somebody else.

Personally, I have used plenty of stock images for my own art. It’s easy—search for images that are explicitly labeled as stock. Follow the rules of the author. If in doubt about whether you can use some image, send the artist an e-mail and ask for permission.

Here’s an example of what not to do.

Blam's Coon Stolen Logotype

Blam’s Coon stolen logotype.

No, you cannot just take any copyrighted image you found online, edit it, and proclaim that the resulting image is now yours to use in any way you like.

What are the problems? Firstly, there’s the financial harm. An art thief profits from using my work. In return, I gain nothing but insults. Professional artists need to sell their art in order to earn an income. Artists need to buy food and pay rent just like everybody else. We cannot work for free and sustain ourselves with the passion for art and the joy of creativity. Capitalism doesn’t allow a person to survive without earning an income.

Stolen art sold on eBay.

Stolen art sold on eBay. That’s my drawing there. Yes, I already sent the DMCA takedown notice.

Secondly, there’s the emotional drain. Dealing with copyright infringement is emotionally exhausting. It’s not just that I have to waste my time sending DMCA takedown notices, having to do so also makes me feel bad. It sucks me into certain negative thought patterns about the current state of humanity. (Why are people so nasty to each other? Why do human societies have to be so terrible?)

Art Theft

Also, I dislike seeing ugly versions of my artworks. Thieves who trace my images usually do a poor job at it. In my original artwork the lines are clean and their edges crisp. In the stolen image, the lines are messy, jagged, and their edges blurred. That looks ugly.

Here are the problems: (1) I allowed a nasty stranger to make me feel sad; (2) I caught myself wishing somebody else could help me and just fix my problem for me—for a moment I was wishing that somebody else could just deal with this art thief for me in my place and “avenge” me by making them regret stealing from me. Wishing for somebody else to take care of me and deal with my shit is something I was not supposed to do. I am supposed to be more self-sufficient than that and capable of dealing with my own problems.

I occasionally get sucked into a certain kind of negative mental state—feeling bad about the human society and all those nasty things that are happening around me. This time these feelings got triggered by copyright infringement, a never ending tide of art thieves who are out there to leech profits from my work while I get nothing except for headaches in return. Usually the same feelings are triggered by transphobia, social inequality, bigotry, wars, and all the other horrible things human beings do to each other. My thoughts about the humanity sometimes become pretty grim.

That’s when I catch myself wishing that I could just get away from this society, escape from all the crap that’s happening around me. I don’t want to be emotionally involved with all these terrible things that are happening on this planet in human societies. I wish I didn’t need to care about these things.

I sometimes think about those hermits who actually managed to successfully distance themselves from human societies. I have been wondering about whether I could make it work and if so, then how. Living alone in a forest wouldn’t be a realistic option. I don’t want harsh living conditions. I do like comfort. Even if I bought some land and started growing most of my own food, I still wouldn’t be self-sufficient. I would have to pay a real estate tax. I would have to buy various goods that I cannot make myself. I would still need money.

For me, self-sufficiency is all about obtaining money. Buying stuff online and picking it up with little human interaction is no problem. Instead, the real problem is earning money. That requires all kinds of unpleasant human interactions, it requires me to care about other people (my clients or employers). I’m required to care about other people’s opinions and desires; or at the very least I have to pretend that I care, because I do need to fulfill other people’s wishes in exchange of their cash.

And in this case, earning money is the only reason why I am obliged to post my art online and worry about art thieves. If my income didn’t depend on my artworks, I would be free to not give a shit about art thieves.

So yeah, I sometimes feel bad about what’s happening with human societies. In such moments I sort of need emotional support. I mean, strictly speaking, I don’t desperately need it, my bad mood usually goes away on its own after a while regardless of what I do. But it really helps to be reminded that on this planet there exist also nice people who understand me, agree with me, and care about me.

As I was mentally contemplating the structure of this blog post and what I would write, the obvious thought was that I shouldn’t even think about publishing this in the first place. I was thinking about complaining and venting about how art theft hurts content creators, how it makes us waste our time and energy in order to get the stolen images removed from the Internet, how we feel financially exploited and taken advantage of. How it feels bad to see thieves get away with what they do. How it feels bad to see somebody creating uglier versions of our artworks (often people take some image, draw on top of it, and the result looks ugly in comparison with the original artwork).

Firstly, what I was thinking of saying (“I feel bad right now, a nasty person actually managed to hurt me”) would be a thinly veiled attempt to fish for emotional support. It would be deceptive. The real message would be: “I feel like shit, please tell me something nice, tell me that you understand and support me.” Nonetheless, this real message would be hidden between the lines, thus the blog post wouldn’t be honest. I wouldn’t be truthful about what I am trying to achieve (namely, get some messages expressing support). When interacting with other people, I prefer to be direct and honest as a matter of principle. And I don’t like to break my principles.

Secondly, such a blog post would mean publicly admitting a weakness. It would mean admitting that I am not self-sufficient and that I allow my emotional wellbeing to be influenced by other people. More importantly, it would mean admitting to my enemies that I am not emotionally invulnerable. I am pretty certain that the owner of Blam’s Coon doesn’t read my blog (they don’t know English well enough for that), but nonetheless, it would be better for me not to risk giving them the satisfaction of knowing that they managed to hurt me emotionally.

Instead, I do know for a fact that there are transphobes reading my blog. When you are openly non-cis and creating online content, you are better off pretending that you have a thick skin and you don’t care about what other people say, you are better off pretending that you are impervious to all those nasty things that people say about you online.

The moment predators smell blood, they will attack you en masse. This is something I learned years ago at school. Back then, some wannabe bullies tried to hurt me. As a child, I quickly learned that if I never showed any weakness, pretended that I don’t care, and refused to pay attention to bullies or even acknowledge their presence, they quickly got bored and left me alone. If the victim doesn’t show any signs of pain, bullying gets boring. Bullies enjoy watching their victim suffer. If I showed no visible signs of being in pain, trying to bully me became as boring as talking to a wall.

It is true that I do have a thick skin. Compared to many other trans people who are deeply hurt by all the usual transphobia an openly trans person experiences online, I really do cope relatively very well. Often I can successfully ignore all the crap and emotionally distance myself from nasty online trolls. But I am not invulnerable. And I suspect that my life could be easier if people who dislike me imagined that I truly don’t give a shit at all and actually am completely invulnerable.

So why did I write this blog post after all? Because I strongly suspect that how I feel is common. Humans need emotional support. We feel better if somebody tells us that they understand and support us. When something unpleasant happens, we need the presence of other people who could reassure us that we are not alone. Given how I imagine this to be a common experience, I might as well write about it.

Moreover, hiding some facts about myself out of fear that somebody might later exploit this knowledge is another weakness. If I really were as strong as I wish I could be, I wouldn’t have to fear other people finding out about my weak spots, about how to hurt me. Instead, I would be able to say: “Here’s how you can hurt me most effectively. You can try it out. I don’t fear getting hurt, because I know that I can cope with anything, and I will be just fine anyway.”


  1. says

    I pretty much quit doing photography because the image-stealers left such a bad taste in my mouth that I decided to create unique artworks that were physically instanced so they couldn’t be stolen. Nobody was going to pay for one of my wet plates and then load it into photoshop and edit some stupid slogan on top of it.

    The worst were the ones who were well-intentioned: “I did it in homage to the beauty of your image” – which is a great excuse if you’ve taken a chisel and decided to fix a marble sculpture in a museum.

    If I really were as strong as I wish I could be, I wouldn’t have to fear other people finding out about my weak spots, about how to hurt me. Instead, I would be able to say: “Here’s how you can hurt me most effectively. You can try it out. I don’t fear getting hurt, because I know that I can cope with anything, and I will be just fine anyway.”

    To get there, you have to be either so terrifying that everyone knows and fears you and your work is protected by your
    ferocity, or you have to not care anymore. When you get to the point when you don’t care anymore, you’ve been backed into a corner that means you may as well quit. Been there, done that.

    I used to spend hours photoshopping every pixel of an image to get it the way I wanted it to be, only for someone to load it into a meme-generator and slam text (and some website copyright) onto it, “in homage.” Fuck that. You stop caring and start working in steel and wood.

  2. says

    PS – by “terrifying” I mean you have to be Disney. For some reason, people have managed to figure out that you don’t photoshop on Disney properties or you get a real, honest-to-god “cease and desist” backed by a veritable army of full-time lawyers. Image-stealers are intellectually capable of figuring out that you don’t steal from Disney, they ought to be able to figure out that you don’t steal from the little guy, either.

  3. says

    When you get to the point when you don’t care anymore, you’ve been backed into a corner that means you may as well quit. Been there, done that.

    If I didn’t need to earn my income by selling art, it would be much easier to not care about how other people were using it. When I do something as a hobby, then it’s just for my own fun and enjoyment, then I don’t have to give a shit about how other people react to what I do.

  4. StevoR says

    Damn. That stinks. I’m sorry you’re in this totally shitty situation Andreas Avester. 🙁

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