Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Plagiarism on Facebook

This is about people who claim other people's artwork as their own - and highlights a case study of an example on Facebook.

A couple of days ago I was sent this message.
This is probably a strange/annoying message, but anyway here goes. I have a friend on Facebook who has set up an artists page, no harm there, however, I have a really good visual memory and I noticed that some of the images she was claiming as her work were from other artists. I reverse searched some more of her images and it turns out loads of them are lifted from other places. It seems an odd thing to do, and I should probably unfriend her, have you come across this kind of thing?
I've heard about this before but not actually seen it so I asked for more details and was sent some links to several examples of the copying

Here's just one of the posts by the "Facebook friend" (whose name I have removed) who's purporting to be 'playing about with watercolour in the garden'

A post by a plagiarist on Facebook
However she is actually "busted" because.....'s the original watercolour painted by Paul Wang, in Singapore, and posted to Flickr. I was pretty sure it was one of Paul's before I found his page as he has a very distinctive and attractive style of painting in watercolour.

Paul Wang - Sketching Georgetown Penang
2nd sketch for the day. So glad to be attending this sketching event organized by the USK Penang sketchers
Copyright Paul Wang - all rights reserved
One of the problems with Flickr is it makes your images available to others unless you adjust your settings. On the whole, if you're minded to be sociable with your images - and share them - the chances are that they may well be stolen.

Although not everybody who steals claims to have painted them!

I also found the image again on Tumblr and on what I think is a spanish site (twice) with different "motivational" messages  in Spanish - one translates as
spotted with colors and scratches, what our mind is without color and shape

Why do people copy other people's images?

I have no idea what makes people claim other people's art as their own and think they can get away with it.

I can only guess the inclination to steal and dissemble is related to:

  • either a complete lack of integrity
  • or an urge to cheat to make yourself look better than you are - because how you look is everything and it doesn't matter if you fake it!
  • or some deep-seated notion of their own art being unworthy / wanting to be liked by other people via posting images which are liked

This is an article from PetaPixel - 10 Bogus Excuses People Use When They Steal Photos from the Web. One of these BOGUS excuses is
4. It’s on Facebook, and everything on Facebook is on public domain
Contrary to popular belief, a photographer does not lose his/her copyright when a photo is uploaded on Facebook. Facebook’s Term of Service says:
You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook
So can you share a photo posted on Facebook? Usually, but under certain conditions. Facebook Term of Service says:
you can control how [your photo] is shared through your privacy and application settings.
That means a photo on Facebook can be shared by another user only by using the “share” button and only if the photographer allows it from his/her privacy setting. You cannot save it on your computer and use it anywhere else on Facebook or the Internet.
So - bottom line, if it's on Flickr, Facebook or just on the internet that does NOT mean it is available to copy.

How can you tell if somebody is copying?

A variety of styles

One of the obvious indicators that somebody is copying is when their style seems to be all over the place.

However, this also frequently happens as people are starting out and while they are trying to make art in different ways so is by no means cast iron evidence of copying.

Proof via a reverse image search

If you do a reverse search on an image which you think you may have seen before, you'll soon find out whether or not it can be seen elsewhere. Inspection of a few of the possible sources generally turns up the real owner ie the rest of their artwork also looks similar in style.

This is my website about How to do a reverse image search

One of the bonuses of having a style of your own and of this being well known is that it helps to protect your artwork - because others can now more easily spot when your artwork has been copied!

A tendency to lie and dissemble

Another indicator of people who copy is that they have a tendency to lie - a lot! If you find somebody who has been copying try checking out a few more "facts" on their website. It's not uncommon for the individual to be living a fantasy life online.  Examples might include claiming they went to famous art schools and/or show their work with reputable galleries.

What should you do if you see somebody copying?

Individuals who copy the artwork of others certainly need to be unfriended - in my opinion.

If you want to do the decent thing I'd also make a point of informing those whose artwork has been copied. (I'm going to be writing to Paul Wang immediately after this post is published - with the URL of the original image sent to me. I'll also be supplying the email of the individual who was doing the copying.)

If it happens on a site like Facebook you also have the option of reporting the image to Facebook.

However do be aware there are specific contexts where it is legitimate to copy and there are also occasions where people have permission to copy.

The difference in these instances is that:
  • the people posting the images do not claim ownership of the image which has been copied and 
  • AND they almost always provide the right credit and context for the copied image
  • AND their reason for highlighting the image falls within one of the conventions for copyright exceptions.

and finally......

This is what the person who contacted me said about what she did next
I unfriended her. I posted your article on copyright yesterday, and I have noticed a few subtle changes in her text, she is claiming less about her own input in some of the more obvious ones.

Plus the original post by the offender has been removed from her Facebook Page - and her Redbubble website is showing up as a 404 page.

I guess she knows she's been 'rumbled'!

More about copyright infringement

On this blog (since 2011)

On other websites - re. misunderstandings and copyright exceptions


  1. Facebook isn't always what it seems to be, ... for that fact it's mostly not what it seems to be.

    Good posting!

  2. I just watched the documentary movie Catfish about a fictitious 8-year-old child prodigy artist who befriends a young man on Facebook, he starts a relationship with the girls older sister only to find out well.. no spoiler here. But I was stunned that people fabricate all of this stuff as a online persona. Its a strange world...

  3. Just to see what would come up, I did a reverse search of the watercolor painting too. As is common with so many infringed images, it is pretty 'viral.' That's the downside of having your work go viral; it's mostly unattributed to you, so it ceases to function as promotion. Plus, unidentified images are prone to increased infringement. Images that have the artist's name right on them at least will come up in reverse searches alongside the ones people may have removed the mark from. As more people learn about reverse image searches, more liars and thieves will be outed.

  4. Thank you so much for this post. You've included so much useful information and detail - all appreciated. I'd forgotten all about reverse image searches. It's such a helpful tool.

  5. I come at this topic from a different angle than most artists since I put all my art directly into the public domain, so normally I'd stay out of this conversation. That said, I do think it's important to clarify something that was said in the article.

    Most sharing of art on social media is unlawful without permission from the artist. It does not fall under the fair use exceptions (which allow for use of an image without asking permission first) unless the person doing the sharing includes some commentary about the image, and even then it's iffy.

    To me, that's a really good argument for why artists should be using Creative Commons to license their work instead of copyright. Creative Commons allows artists to specify when they want to be asked permission for use of their art and when they don't need to be asked. This vlog explains how you probably are already into Creative Commons licensing even if you don't know about it, and this video breaks down these very practical licenses beautifully.


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