When copy-paste is a crime: On plagiarized art

At educational institutions such as our own, the act of plagiarism is treated gravely. Heavy punishments are usually meted out to any offenders who get caught stealing—or copying—someone else’s intellectual property. With tools such as Turnitin seeing widespread use among students and professors, it is clear that plagiarism is treated seriously in the academe.

Merriam-Webster defines plagiarism as the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person. Thus, it goes beyond what is written; it also extends to works of art, which can be viewed as ideas transformed into a more visual form.

Sadly, these works of art, especially visual illustrations and even photos, have been plagiarized countless times. There have been several cases of people downloading another artist’s images from the internet, removing his or her watermarks, a ‘signature’ used to identify ownership to a digital art, and then posting it online, claiming it as their own work. It hurts the art industry through misinformation to those who appreciate and share art; more than that, it also hurts the chances of the actual artists getting commissioned to do work.


Artists and their art

A work of art is not simply a product made by a person; it is, in a way, like a child the artist gives birth to. Design professor Luarni Sim, who builds LEGO models and creates 3D art out of them, says, “Anything you create with your own two hands is like an extension of yourself.”

Many artists love sharing their work, Kiara Chan (2016, AB-OCM) says that she gets a sense of fulfillment creating works of art because her art is a medium in which she expresses her opinions, beliefs, and feelings. Although she enjoys sharing her work, especially if she created a piece for a specific audience, she does take ownership of it.

“I would never deny that it’s mine. And if I saw someone repost, and not tag me, I would definitely talk to the account owner to either take it down, or acknowledge that I created the piece,” she says.

That said, plagiarizing art is no small thing. More than time and money, an artist also has a significant personal and emotional investment in their work. To see it replicated and distributed without giving due credit is an insult beyond words and completely disregards the hard work the artist has put into creating something that is essentially a piece of their soul.


The art of thieving

For those with more imaginative minds, art theft is not just limited to a debonair thief sneaking into a museum. Sim says, “It could be stealing one’s work to pass as your own. It’s also posting someone else’s work without giving due credit as you give the impression that it is yours.”

Another thing that classifies as art theft for him is copying a sizeable part of the original artwork and selling it as your own. “The lack of giving credit, regardless of how small the inspiration or the influence is, is pretty much my definition of plagiarism.”.

It really boils down to giving credit where credit is due, according to Chan. She makes sure it’s clear that sharing in itself is not wrong; it’s the lack of credit that is harmful. An example she uses to explain this is social media; she explains how uncredited art spreads once one person shares it. “Since the artist was not quoted or cited, the art becomes vulnerable to other people to claim ownership over it,” she emphasizes.


Stolen Arts (L) - Ulric de Guzman copy


Plagiarism is stealing, stealing is against the law

Romeo Catap, a design professor, confesses that art theft has happened to him before and that he lost sleep over it. Artists are overcome with a myriad of emotions from hurt to anger when they see their art stolen without credit. Catap shares, “For me, it’s like you worked hard illustrating a piece of your soul and then someone else shamelessly owns it, even promotes it as if it was theirs, taking the easy apathetic route of self-gratification even if it was actually yours.”

Sim admits that it is heartbreaking to see someone steal something that he created out of “an act of love”. He further explains, “Sharing it [art] to the world is a huge risk for an artist.”

Certainly, art is something that takes years to develop. It isn’t surprising that many artists say that their art is the fruit of their blood, sweat, and soul and that it is a piece of them that they chose to share to the world.

“Artists work hard to perfect their craft. It’s not just about technique, it’s also about soul. They put their heart into what they create,” Chan admits. It is therefore not welcomed when people downplay the work, effort, and skill it takes to create something out of nothing. “Acknowledge artists and their craft. Don’t take credit for their work.”.

Plagiarism in art isn’t just limited to local artists and their creations. Recently, Kylie Cosmetics, known for its “dripping lips” image found all over the famous Kylie lip kits, was threatened with charges of theft of intellectual property from makeup artist Vlada Haggerty, who originally conceptualized the “dripping lips” image. Haggerty expressed outrage on her Instagram account, prompting Kylie Cosmetics to give the makeup artist due credit.

With intellectual property laws given more attention and studied further, it is only right that everyone is aware of the repercussions of using another’s art and neglecting to credit the original creator. While punishing plagiarism in the academic scene is easy, artists believe that it is much harder for art plagiarism to be recognized as legitimate theft.

Sim further elaborates by saying that it is “saddening” that the Philippines falls behind in comparison to other countries that support local artists and have laws that protect them from plagiarism.

He states, “There’s a ton of local talent—and I honestly believe that Filipinos are one of the most talented among Asian countries—but because there’s no government support both in honing that talent and protecting that talent with actual laws, no one really pursues art as a viable medium.”

Republic Act No. 8293, otherwise known as the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines, is the Philippine government’s way of ensuring that copyrighted materials are not stolen. The law protects not only literature, but also patents and other intellectual property. However, there is no specific mention of artworks in the law.

Catap believes that intellectual property policies are a good starting point in regards to better protecting artists and their art. He says that it needs “strengthening [of] its scope,” “better implementations,” and “more bite than bark.”

Truly the Philippines has a long way to go when it comes to proper treatment of her talented artists, but all the responsibility shouldn’t rest on the law. People who enjoy the arts must also take steps in preserving not just the art but all forms of intellectual property.

Respecting artists by crediting them when we share their artworks, not stealing their art, and reporting the people who do so is a good start. After all, art is important.

Robin Williams, one of the most ingenious actors who graced our time, summed it up perfectly in Dead Poets Society.

“Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

Denise Nicole Uy

By Denise Nicole Uy

Nicole Wong

By Nicole Wong

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