Lookin' good! (Unfortunately NOT that sort of pirate!!)
Have you ever googled your own name? Go on…. I bet you have!
I have, too! Actually, a couple of times a year I check what my google listings look like for my face painting company ‘Fine Line Face and Body Art’. Is everything that I actively do actually improving my ranking working? Do I need to improve on something different?
I also check what photos come up when I search for ‘face painters in Leipzig’ (Germany), where I live.
It was while I was doing this, that something caught my eye. It was a very familiar photo of a beautiful lady with a beautifully painted face. This lady is not just anybody. She is a very famous and gifted American face painter, who could easily be regarded as the mother of modern face painting. Ask any professional face painter and I bet she will be in their top 5 of favourite or most influential painters.
I have seen this image many times over the years, so it didn’t initially worry me to see it on a google search results. However, I was surprised that it came up along-side photos of my work. Something else also caught my eye: the web-address underneath the photo was for a link to a German website.
Curiosity got the better of me and I clicked on the image. The link took me to the website belonging to a small German events company. They offer all sorts of entertainment, a bucking bronco, bouncy castles, outdoor games, face painting, glitter tattoos ….you get the picture.
The face painting page proudly displayed 10 photos of happy, painted faces you might be glad to see when looking for someone to paint your guests. The photo of the famous American face painter was indeed on display as an example of their work. I had stumbled across an example of photo piracy.
Even without the famous lady photo it was clear to me that the designs in the other photos were also of varied quality (i.e. it looked like 10 different people with different skill levels had painted them). Would the general public notice this disparity? Perhaps not. In addition, the price this company was charging was much cheaper than I see as a fair price for a high-quality professional service. Suspicious, but no solid proof of further wrong-doing.
My impression of this company, however, did not improve when I tried to find their ‘Impressum’ page. In Germany it is a legal requirement to have this page on a business website as it contains all the information needed to easily contact the website owner in case of content problems, which the owner must take responsibility for. They had no such page on their website. They also had no ‘Datenschutzerklärung’ (Data Protection Policy), another legal requirement. I did eventually spot an email address after searching their site and wondered whether to email the owner my concerns about the photograph.
You may be wondering at this point what the problem is with displaying someone else’s work as your own, and why I’m bothering to write this blog post about it. Surely, isn’t it just face painting?
The problems are 3-fold:
1. For you, the artist, whose work has been pirated
Firstly, a photograph that you took of a design you painted is legally your property and the use of it by a second party without your permission is illegal. That is a fact. No one is allowed to display your photo pretending that it is their own work.
It’s also a question of morality. Someone else is capitalising on all your years of hard work and experience it has taken to achieve a professional level of artistry (sadly it doesn’t just come to anyone overnight!). Photos of your work are a way of advertising your expertise and distinguishing you from the competition. You have spent a lot of time, effort and money honing your skills, doing the job and arranging a photo shoot. For someone else to claim your work as their own devalues the work of the professional (who usually charges more money for their top-notch service). And of course, professionals depend on their work gained from their good reputation to make a living.
2. For you, the customer
By using someone else’s designs and photos, the pirate is falsely advertising the services they can provide for you. They lure you in with cheaper quotes and the promise of quality. It’s likely you will not be happy with the service you receive if you do decide to book them, and you probably won’t book them again, but by then the money is spent.
What worries me more than poor painting is this: if the pirate was happy to lie to you about the quality of his face painting service, what else are they happy to lie about? Are their paints of professional grade or has he bought them cheaply in the pound shop and knows nothing of their origin or safety (a very common and dangerous problem with cheap paints. Look up face paint reactions on a search engine- it should scare you). Is their equipment really cleaned thoroughly after every use or is it thrown back in the box it came out of, just long enough to cultivate a new batch of bacteria to generously pass on to the next customers? I could go on but I’m sure you get the idea.
3. For the pirate
Falsely advertising their services will, in the end, damage their reputation. It’s unlikely they would get repeat bookings from disappointed clients and so must constantly look for new ones (not a good business model!).
So, it seems that everybody loses with photograph piracy. Why is it, sadly, so common?
I can only assume it is either because the pirates don’t understand the consequences of their actions, or they just don’t care.
What is even more startling to me in this particular case is, that, if the pirate in question knew anything about professional face painting, they would have recognised the lady in the photo and realised how ridiculous it was pretending that a world-famous American face painter was jobbing for them in the wilds of Eastern Germany without anybody noticing!
What can be done to try and prevent photo piracy?
There is no easy solution. It is so very easy to download a photo from the internet and save it on a personal device. Because of this, the unscrupulous among us will always find a way to deceive their customers, if that is their intention. However, there are things both artist and customer can do to help…
As an artist we can help make the general public aware of this real and growing problem. Customers can and should be asking probing questions about potential face painters: do all images show the same (good) quality painting? Are there photos of the artist on-the-job, together with a happy child they have painted? Are they regularly updating their social media accounts with new material? Ask for references; does their website look professional? Ask about their hygiene routine; ask to see a photo of their kit whilst out on a job (a mess of paint pots, dirty sponges, paintbrushes soaking in water etc. should be a warning sign); ask what paints they use etc. etc.
But we artists can make it more difficult by watermarking all our photos. Of course isn’t fool-proof, but the extra work of removing the logos should put off a proportion of them.
For those of you who are wondering if I contacted the pirate to confront him about the photo, I felt for the sake of my fellow professionals I had a duty to suggest that he might like to remove the pirated photo from his website.
The email I received back was very aggressive and rude. He claimed that he employed a qualified make-up artist from Russia and that he, himself, had taken all the photos of the face painting on display on his website.