You know what’s cool about being artists and loving art? We don’t steal art.

Not everyone works this way.

We are releasing our new “Fibre Animals” line of mugs and I’m apprehensive because theft is a real thing in our lives right now.

Since November of last year, we’ve been dealing with someone in our community that pretended to want a wholesale order for one of our product lines, and then she went off and reproduced our work on cheapo mugs ordered online. She also went one step further and put her own name and website underneath our design on her mugs which violates the law even further. The first thing was bad, and the second made our blood boil over here at Chez Chasing Fire. We asked her to stop via a formal cease and desist and we were… naïve? and assumed she’d complied with our copyright protection. We were wrong. She is still selling our designs on her mugs. We sent a second cease and desist AGAIN giving her the option to a) stop selling/giving away/exchanging reproductions of our work or b) we’re taking her to court to protect our copyright and we want all royalties from all sales of these illegal reproductions of our work since she lied to us in 2016, and hey, for being a dick, we’ll take all of our legal costs covered. The law is on our side. We’re unsure which she will choose but we’re ready to fight. She’ll be at the same show as we will this weekend, and we can’t wait to see if she’s still selling stolen designs.

She knows what she’s doing. She’s admitted to knowing and believes that she can steal whatever she wants and profit from it. The cease and desist letters point out Canadian law and how she’s violating it but, she just doesn’t care. She is fine with stealing from artists, thinking we have no repercussions. In a way, she’s correct because it is an expensive road paying for lawyers and court costs. In the end, we think it will be worth it because her behaviour is ludicrous, and just plain disgusting and insulting to artists everywhere.

She claims to be a “fair trade” vendor and I question the truth behind that because we, as artists, have never been treated so dishonestly in our six years in ceramics. Her website claims she’s fair trade and “conscious”. That second part I agree with. She’s very conscious of what she’s doing and that it’s dishonest, because she does not care as long as none of her customers know. She has backed off on the fair trade claim on and off over the past nearly two years that this boondagle has been going on, sometimes claiming to be a “thoughtful” trader but she’s got it plastered around that she’s fair trade again. She’s not fair at all by any definition of that word. She has been sneaking around, trying to find wholesale deals for this work that is ours, taking the work to markets before and since the cease and desist and hiding it where it isn’t seen or photographed openly by instagrammers: That’s how she got into trouble in the first place. Someone photographed her booth and we saw that she’d made copies of our work. To add insult to injury, it was just months after she’d claimed she was so excited to work with us to become one of our wholesale retailers.

We had been excited too. Until we realized that we’d been swindled.

It was a kick in the gut.

To be clear, our designs come from three sources:

1. Us. We’re creative people with hilarious and inspirational ideas. Many of these are discarded because it turns out they aren’t so hilarious or inspirational after all. Some come to fruition. We have sketchbooks and whiteboards and napkins full of drawings and written ideas. Jay and I (Cara) have been married for 19 years partially because we inspire each other and work well collaboratively… (and partially because no one else understands our need to communication in song lyrics). We make things from our ideas. For example, I’ve been working on a series for almost a year that’s about to finally become something other than watercolour sketches, and it will probably get reworked and redone and go through the ringer, and it might never be shown to anyone outside of our studio but it’s an idea that is coming to life. It’s how creative work is made.

2. Our friends and family. Jason’s mom and my mom are amazing artists. Jason’s mom Cheryl did the illustrations for the Stampede Series that was available during Calgary Stampede 2017. They were original drawings that were put into clay, and it was a fabulous collaboration between them. My mom does these amazing tangled drawings on reverse that are breathtaking in clay. Denise from Poppy Yarn & Fibre keeps sending me the funniest animal puns and I have actually put tea through my nose then I send her sketches and she sends me back feedback like “BIGGER EARS” or “it needs more sass” and then I do that. We are having so much fun. People might love what we come up with, and I hope so because it’s ours to unleash (hahaha) on the world.

3. Other artists. We pay other artists. We really do. We license drawings. We pay for textures and tools and commercial stamps. One of the parts of our most popular designs was from a Lethbridge artist – that we paid his fee to use – and he is super bombdiddlybomb smart.

What we don’t do is STEAL. I even try to avoid pinterest and I don’t even follow potters on Instagram that I think are really similar to my aesthetic so I don’t accidentally copy someone else’s work. I want to be unique. Jason wants to be unique. We love our creative process. We love working collaboratively with each other and with other artists. We want people to have one of a kind things in their homes that make them happy.

Stealing other people’s designs and slapping them on cheap crap isn’t just illegal, it’s an insult. I wonder what this woman does when people pick up our work on her crappy cheapo mugs and compliment the design. Does she take credit? Does she go so far as to pretend it’s all her creative work? It’s sad and frustrating and disgusting and immoral and, the most important issue to me, illegal under Canadian law.

Theft is theft and it’s not slander if I’m yelling “thief”. Which I’m about ready to do in person and vocally because I’m getting more and more angry as time goes on. Jason suggested buying the booth next to her at all her future markets and just putting up a sign that says “THIEF” with an arrow pointing into her booth, then asking the court for those costs back once this hits that realm. Neither of us are sure that booth fees really count as statutory damages but, it’s fun to think about. The court considers bad faith to be a big no no and this woman? Her photo is in the dictionary under the definition of bad faith. The markets, once they are aware of what she is doing, are also legally at risk for infringing on our copyright. She’s just digging everyone into a giant hole. Etsy has already complied with our copyright and taken down her crap in her online store, but she has her own website that we can’t control. She continues to sell OUR work.

And she seemed so nice.

Protect your copyright, artists. Fight for it, and don’t be like us and be naïve to think that people see they were wrong and stop being jerks. Follow up, go to court sooner than later, and push for the cash that you’re owed by people that think they can financially benefit from YOUR intellectual property. F#CK those jerks. Fight back. Nobody got time for this crap.

For people that aren’t inherently jerks like this woman, know that stealing makes you a bad person and stealing from artists especially if you are an artist makes you even worse. If you don’t know if an image you found is someone else’s, there is no excuse not to go find the source. Google has image search. If you are directly copying someone else’s work, you are infringing on their copyright and their intellectual property. Go ask them if it’s ok with them before copying and if they say no, don’t do it. Better yet, go find something original that is yours.

And always, when in doubt, Wheaton’s Law is best followed: “DON’T BE A DICK”.

If you are an artist that is also having issues like this, there are plenty of legal resources available. Canada legally protects its artists and our work, no matter what jerks like this woman seem to think. There are legal clinics and advisors all over the place to help you fight back.

The Copyright Act in Canada gives artists the following: (from the fabulous people at CARFAC):

The Exhibition Right

The exhibition right entitles visual artists to receive payment when their work is exhibited in a public exhibition and is not for sale.

The Reproduction Right

When an artist produces a work of art the reproduction of the work can only be authorized by the artist unless permission is given to otherwise do so.

Moral Rights

Moral rights include:

    • The right to protect your artwork against distortion, alteration or mutilation in a way which prejudices your reputation;
    • The right to associate your name as the author of your work or remain anonymous if you choose and
    • The right to protect your visual image from association with a cause, a product, service, or institution to which you are personally opposed.

If you have any questions about your legal rights as an artist and don’t have your own intellectual property lawyer to consult, CARFAC has resources available to you. (Albertans, your branch is here)