Monday, August 3, 2015

    It's somewhat sad to make this blog post, as I naively thought it would never happen to me. It's the topic of copyright violation.

     For cartoonists, this is almost a moot point in the current culture. Cartoons abound on Facebook for free, and one can share them easily. But if you want to sell your cartoons, you need to keep control of them but also to publish them online so they can be seen and marketed. What to do?
     Now, probably for those millenials and younguns who have grown with computers, this might be an easy problem to solve. Any 14 year-old who reads this and can advise me, please write. But in the meantime, I am finding that I now have to deal with my cartoons being lifted and used without my permission, even though they clearly have a copyright sign.

     One day, I was googling my name to see what might come up. We all do this, from curiosity or professional scrutiny, whichever logic works best. There I found one of my cartoons published in New Zealand, on a site I had never heard of. Now the dreaded copyright violation had hit home and me personally.

     I had heard horror stories about China lifting art and stories from the internet and publishing them broadly over there without the original artist ever knowing. But it seemed so far away, nothing that would ever happen to me. At least this site author had attributed the cartoon to me by name, which is how I was able to see it.

     I also found some cartoons posted there by a very famous cartoonist, whose style I know well, with the artists signature, website, and copyright sign cropped out.

     But I looked through the site content and liked what I saw. Here was a site of an independent thinker, with interesting quotes and articles, no ads, and plainly no commercial intent. Did any harm come to me from this act? I thought not. I don't charge small, honest indie journals and websites for my work anyway as unlike the big corporate newspapers, they are actually doing something for society.

     But it unnerved me to find my cartoon had strayed out of my firm grasp. I could only wonder what other places my cartoons may have been without my knowledge.

     Now I am putting a watermark on the new cartoons I post on my website and will eventually go back and replace all of them with watermarked cartoons. I feel the watermark detracts from the impact and aesthetic of the cartoon, but now seem to have no choice.

     I emailed the web author and said my piece, in what I felt was a kind and diplomatic way. I  stressed that if they had asked for permission, I would have granted it easily. I hoped to hear back, be acknowledged, and perhaps strike up a new contact and (this time with permission) have more of my work posted there.

    It's been over two months now. I never heard back, and the watermarks are now, sadly, a permanent part of my online repertoire. Live and learn, I suppose.

Shelli Pruett,


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