Digital artistic theft has been an issue in creative communities ever since networking technology has allowed artists to place multimedia on their web space. People can plagiarize images and other art that they find in cyberspace as easily as a few mouse clicks. Unfortunately plagiarism of art isn’t often considered as a great crime outside of academic circles, and as such, often people don’t understand that plagiarism is more than copying words out of books or from internet sources, it is copying ideas and intellectual property of others as a whole for personal gain, be it egotistical or economic. Forgery of art is often not considered as a major issue as proving the theft is an extremely hard process, particularly while using digital mediums as proof of creation is difficult to ascertain due to the very nature of the medium. As a result, law enforcement agencies are sometimes reluctant to pursue a case in fear of prosecution of an innocent party. Exceptions are when plagiarism occurs within academic circles where theft is easier traced due to the nature of forgery protection techniques employed by tertiary institutions, LaFollette (1992). The truth is that plagiarism, be it paragraphs of words out of a book, or photographing a movie poster and printing it is against the law and international copyright treaties. In western culture, plagiarism is usually deemed wrong in both in terms of the law and by moral standards. It is viewed as stealing and as western culture as whole is based loosely on the teachings of the 10 commandments of the biblical texts, stealing is unacceptable in society, Heinemann (2002: pp27).
There are many reasons why people may feel obliged to steal art. According to Anderson (2004) it’s mainly because it’s easy to achieve the desired effects from the actions. By commandeering a piece of art, placing it on their own personal webpage and claiming that it’s their own original piece, one could drive a large amount of visitors to their site that wouldn’t normally have ventured there. As a result the theft becomes identity theft where as the fraudster is posing as somebody who can achieve these artistic feats but in reality they cannot. “It is rather odd how it can be satisfying to be praised for someone else’s work, but people do it”, Anderson (2004). This raises the point that it is possible that art thieves may just steal just for the sake of stealing, annoying people or some obscure sense of importance on their part where hundreds of people may be giving them praise for the stolen work they are displaying. This is in lieu with common ‘black hat’ computer hackers who often will challenge themselves to destroying someone else’s digital property just for the thrill, Windschuttle (2000). This is the most common of digital art theft as these fraudulent actions can occur anonymously without any personal correspondence between the artist and viewer. Also as there is often no economic benefit, it’s seen as relatively victimless from the view of the fraudster, Martin (1994). This is however not true, as although the plagiarist is not generating any economic rewards due to the theft and therefore not depriving the artist of royalties, art is often seen as “part of ones soul”, Coleridge (1889) and as such once its stolen the artist may feel that they are personally violated. “Digital art theft is when someone uses your copyrighted work for something you did not give them permission to do.”, Anderson (2004).
Both ‘Forgery’ and ‘Plagiarism’ are forms of fraud found in the artistic domain. By committing art forgery one claims their work is by another person. By forging art, someone’s name is stolen in order to add value to a piece of work that was never created by the artist that that stolen name belongs to. As a plagiarist, one claims another’s work as their own. By plagiarizing art, someone’s work is stolen in order to given credit to the plagiarist author, Dutton (1998). It is human nature in areas of competition like artistic endeavor to be driven by greed and ambition to be successful regardless of the penalties. Artists and art dealers seek recognition and wealth, and they often deal with art collectors more interested in the investment potential of their work than it’s aesthetic merit or level of skill that the artist may possess. Because of this focus on value, “it is not surprising that fraudulent actions are common”, Crawford (1999).
Fraudulent intention is necessary for a work to be a forgery; this distinguishes forgeries from honest copies. But while unintentional forgery is neigh on impossible (It’s unbelievable that one would accidentally sign their work with the name ‘Picasso’) it is possible to unintentionally plagiarize. Without realizing what one is doing, One might become subconsciously inspired by another’s work be it verbal or imagery and unknowingly replicate aspects of it in their own work. If their unwitting borrowing of style or aspects of their work is adequately apparent, they can be accused of plagiarism, Dutton (1998). Many people would also consider this form of plagiarism as inspiration as other’s work can give artists ideas for their own work and quite harmless, Anderson (2004). It is this theory that establishes the thought digital artists deliberately use techniques of reproduction as a way to “challenge the conception of originality underlying traditional conceptions of art”, Pfohl (2000: pp193). “This practice plays with the concepts of topic and direction to evoke a response from an audience already located in a media and message-saturated world”, Barthes (1973). It is almost as if everything and anything that can be done, has already been done. The only remaining option is to reorganize and manipulate existing images and texts into something that is somewhat unique, Barthes (1973). “Art is either plagiarism or revolution”, Gaugin (1913: pp128).
The internet has been become a vessel for anything and everything regarding to human existence, including art. With more and more art being shown exclusively on the web with the aim of selling prints to online customers or simply to showcase the work as a gallery, more and more people are easliy becoming exposed to art. As such, the demand for art and design for web based art displays has burgeoned and people who see the opportunity to exploit this statistic have begun plagiarising and committing forgery to make money, Martin (1994).
Forgery by definition is a form of fraud, and therefore is as punishable as any other fraud which involves the “production and sale of misrepresented goods”, Oxford (1994). What is disputed on the topic of art theft is the extent to which the moral question ought to be allowed to affect the response of the art viewer. One analogy that has been used is that by one appreciating a piece of art, one is subject to the idea that “we rely on its promise of human significance and loyally entrust ourselves to that promise”, Dutton (1983). What the art forger “exploits and betrays is just the self-giving on which all human relationship depends”, Dutton (1983). This analogy portrays the idea that one can appreciate the aesthetic joys of the art without knowing it’s a forgery. One can claim that it makes no difference whether a piece of art is forged or not as both create the same emotions that the original artist tried to represent. This suggests that the enjoyment of the arts is in part a transaction between artistic creator and audience, a transaction that needs good-faith and trust, Dutton (1983).
“Whether theft, lie, fraud, freeloading, deafness to the voice of God, cultural vandalism, or whatever combination, plagiarism is a falsification of self”, Swanson (2000: pp141) Western culture is increasingly realising the value of ‘intellectual property’ and is attempting to enforce exclusive ownership and control over ideas and images to individuals through ‘copyright statutes’ and ‘international treaties’. But this does not really help us to address the question: “is plagiarism a good or a bad thing?”, Share (2004). “This is an area of considerable ethical complexity. The use of others’ words or ideas is not universally perceived as a bad thing”, Moulton (2002). There is an argument that our western idea of intellectual property and the ownership of ideas is a culturally specific one. In much of the world the idea of the group’s accreditation of ideas is paramount, and the concept of individual creativity that is paramount in western culture is not as important, Swanson (2000: pp136). Owing to the global nature of the digital domain, perhaps members of the cultures of which ownership of ideas belonging to individuals do not realise that their actions of copying other’s art can be hurtful. This is of course a generalisation for “even students raised in North American culture often have little understanding of the extent to which they must credit ideas on which they depend for their own work.”, Dutton (1998). But it does raise awareness to the different cultural beliefs regarding the issue. For example, plans have recently been announced in Osaka, Japan, for a museum showcasing painted reproductions of well known European paintings, Times (2000). Art lovers of Europe would no doubt consider this a mockery of an art museum, and the idea does indeed suggest major cross-cultural differences in cultural beliefs behind copying. Given the increasing internationalization of all world cultures, it may be deduced that the Western demand for originality and referencing of sources will be diluted by competing cultural ideas as what is viewed as legal borrowing, Dutton (1998). However, with the rise of digitization of information, and the spread of copyright protections, coupled with modern western economic globalization trends, it seems more likely that other cultures will come more in line with Europe and North America, rather than the other way around. “The demand for legal protection of intellectual property worldwide will alter norms of individual cultures”, Dutton (1998).
The only way artists can to some extent protect their art from theft is to somewhat deface their own work using what’s known as a ‘digital watermark’ where a graphic of their name and copyright details is placed in an obvious area in the choreography of their art piece, Johnson (2000). This is done so as to show to any viewers of the piece who the image was created by. This does not stop theft however and often watermarks are easy to remove using basic image editing techniques. Another technique is to dilute the quality of the image to such an extent that no body would want to steal the image, “but then again nobody would want to view it either”, Katzenbeisser (2000).
Digital art theft by the very nature of the medium is immensely hard to police and indeed detect, Johnson (2000). As a result, plagiarists and forgers will continue to steal and manipulate art that does not belong to them for their own means, be it for economic or egotistical reasons. Many artists have learnt to live with it, with many stating that one should consider it a complement as someone enjoys your work to an extent that they would want to steal it, while others can lose their livelihood because of the crime and are forced to remove their work from the digital domain, Hoffman (2004).
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