This week has been a bit of an eye-opener and not really in a good way, to be honest.
I’ve been preparing for a big push, getting my greeting card range in numerous post offices/independent retailers in Liverpool and beyond. Before beginning this campaign, I did my due diligence and researched a little deeper into “intellectual property law”, which is a subject that has cropped up a couple of times with my printmaker over the years – we were always under the impression that if no logos or trademarks were painted (the Liverpool FC badge, for instance), then the work was entirely mine and not in breach of any UK IP laws.
It’s accepted that in the US and some European countries there are such things as “image rights”, where it is forbidden to paint/draw/recreate anyone’s image to re-sell without their consent, so I knew by selling globally on Etsy that I might have some issues – four times in five years I’ve had listings taken down by Etsy, which is fair enough. After the fourth occasion, I decided to change the settings and only sell to the UK for a while, thus avoiding any law-breaking or breach of intellectual property rights… or so I thought!
Having spent a few days researching UK law regarding IP, it has become shockingly apparent that the career and business I have been building up from nothing over the past eight years has been regularly breaching these IP laws in a couple of ways:
1. TV & film scenes/characters – apparently recreating such things in a painting (classed as a “derivative”) is infringing on somebody else’s creation (I always thought it would be seen as free advertising for their product). You need permission from the film/TV production company, which is almost impossible to get for small-time businesses & individuals.
2. Iconic people – painting a famous person, as opposed to their character, is fine (in the UK) but only if the photograph you are working from was taken by yourself, or you have permission from the photographer or their representatives (if deceased) – again, difficult to obtain. Of course, artists base their work on other people’s photographs all the time, but often create their own interpretation of the image which lessens the likelihood of any IP infringement.
I, unfortunately, specialise in creating accurate likenesses of the images I work from so, if by some stroke of luck I could get a response from a TV company/photographer etc, the commission they would surely demand in allowing me to reproduce their “creation” would severely impact any meagre profits being made currently.
Having said this, IP is still a bit of a grey area – aside from those four listings on ETSY (a US-based marketplace), I’ve never had any “cease and desist” instructions for any of my work on sale in shops or at markets etc. And I’m certain not every piece I have created is in breach of these IP laws – a lot of it is down to personal interpretation. In that respect, I will continue to sell the full range of greeting cards I have created until legally instructed to do otherwise, on a case by base basis.
From here on in, however, I will no longer be creating new paintings/greeting cards featuring “iconic” people, TV & film scenes/characters, musicians or sports people (unless permission is obtained from the relevant parties).
It looks like it’s time to stand on my own two feet and begin painting/creating my own designs from scratch. Daunting!