When you say the words "art theft" it makes me think of Pierce Brosnan in "The Thomas Crown Affair". In this movie a suave, criminal, playboy sneaks into a museum and steals a Monet. He does it merely to amuse himself and see if he can get away with it. In most cases art theft isn't like this, in fact people who steal art today might not even be aware they are doing so.
In the age of hi tech phones and gadgets,it seems like everyone has some type of device to capture images digitally right there in your pocket. Most cell phones can take photos or even short videos, and the quality is improving. If I had a nickel for every time I saw someone snap a photo of a piece of art hanging on the wall I would be a rich man.
At first its a complement to the artist. A viewer likes your work enough to take a picture. What will he do with it? Use it as a screensaver? Show it to a friend ? Make a copy? They might think that they are looking at the art for too long. Have you heard the expression, "Why don't you take a picture it will last longer."
It doesn't stop there. If you have a website and pictures of your work online, that can be copied very easily.
In a recent television commercial for Channel 10's A-list, they went a little farther than just taking a photo. They went into one of my art venues to shoot their commercial spot for the "Channel 10 A-list awards". The video cameras were set up using the art on the walls as a backdrop. they even went as far as taking down an artist's work and replacing it with there Channel 10 A-list certificate.
The commercial shows a wall with artwork by artist Bret Barrett. On the left,"Bombshell" A abstract portrait of Marilyn Monroe with some Vietnam war references. On the right, "The Robots Were Fun Until they Used us for Spare Parts" A painting of a toy robot with a human eye and mouth. The center picture of another robot "A Walk In The Park", was taken down by the camera man and replaced with the A-list logo. This commercial was shown several times a day for months and no credit was given to the artist. The commercial is not available to watch online, or at least I cant find it. A friend of mine was able to capture a brief segment of the commercial with his, you guessed it, cell phone.
What can you do? As a struggling artist there isn't much you can do, but to copyright your work with the Library of Congress, but that can get expensive. Then the artist could sue and maybe win a settlement. Most artists don't have the stomach for it, or the financial backing. The best thing to do is be positive and try to be flattered that your work was chosen for a T.V. Commercial, which can be the best type of flattery for anyone. Television commercials are made to get your attention. If something you see in a commercial gains your interest even only for a few seconds, then the producers have done their job well. The fact that they are using Barrett's art to get peoples attention is great, even if it was to provide some nice background for their station logo. It's irresponsible for them as an organization not to credit the artist for his work.
The next time you are at an art show think twice before taking a photo. You might want to ask permission, most artists will be happy you asked. Be prepared to tell them what your going to do with that photo as well.
Wonka Gallery Founder