1. Bite off: (verb)-Term used to describe someone copying something or someone else.
Example: Aw, I know you aint wearin the same turtle neck I got on right now. Daiyam, quit BITING OFF me, dawg! (source Urbandictionary.com)
Today I got an email newsletter from fellow New York artist, TMNK (The Me that Nobody Knows), about his own experience with the bite-off, or as he alleges, possible copyright infringement. TMNK, with whom I had the pleasure of doing a group show a few years ago in the East Village, recently wrote about an upcoming documentary called Art as a Weapon which was directed by Jeffery Durkin and features a logo designed by Shepard Fairey that looks eerily similar to TMNK’s. In addition to the logo, the documentary title is also pretty close to his slogan “art is my weapon”, which I remember being part of his mystique ever since I worked with him nearly five years ago. TMNK also goes on to question whether Fairey also bit off of his style in several of his paintings as well. According to him, he was never contacted by the movie director nor Shepard Fairey regarding his artwork or how he uses his work as a vehicle for youth mentoring and outreach. To read more about this, you can visit TMNK’s blog here.
Several months ago, in an post on the art blog The Abundant Artist, Cory Huff artist talks about how artists are pretty much left out in the dark when it comes to protecting their copyright. In short, he cited several examples of artists whose work literally got jacked by big-wig corporations, such as Urban Outfitters, and the lengths they tried to go to defend their copyright. Essentially, the artist gets left out in the cold because they really can’t protect themselves when it comes to copyright due to the high costs of litigation.
Also, as Cory notes, another aggravating factor is that copyright law is pretty inadequate. It’s vague and often ill-defined and subject to interpretation that can be difficult to apply to mediums that are themselves intangible and also subject to interpretation.
Add to that, when it comes to creating visual art, a lot of it is built on “stealing” ideas. Artists often look to other artists for inspiration and frequently build upon and re-interpret an idea, which compels one to ask, where do you draw the line? Copyright law regarding fair use and derivative work tries to answer that question, but as I just stated, that can be a grey, vague area.
So what’s an artist to do?
One option is to do as TMNK and some other artists have done and raise a big stink via social and other electronic media in the hopes that loyal followers will get the word out and shame the offending party into behaving properly.
Another option, as Cory writes, is to find a way around the inadequacies of intellectual property law so that artists don’t have to worry about constantly protecting their copyright and people don’t have to worry that they’re ripping someone off.
Either way, copyright protection and use is a very important topic that we artists have to address and work around because sometimes slapping a copyright symbol on all of our works and sending a threatening letter signed “Esquire” aren’t always enough.
What are your thoughts?