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March-April 2018

Dear art thieves: Stop stealing my work!

On the unnecessary theft of original artwork online

Hana Shafi@HanaShafi

THISMAGBACKLETTER

Dear art thieves,

Yes, that’s what you are. No, I don’t care that you just really liked my work. No, I don’t care that I didn’t use a watermark. It’s my design, you took it, you didn’t get my consent. You’re an art thief.

I know we live in a time where millions of delicious chunks of media are dancing on our fingertips—accessible, saveable, easy to find and use. I know you love following blogs on the social network Tumblr that post inspirational art (without crediting the artist), and cute online corkboards on Pinterest that post soothing illustrations (without credit), and so-called feminist Facebook pages that post sassy memes (without credit). But that does not mean you can take my art without my permission.

I’m talking to you, girl who was selling my stuff on her online store. And I’m talking to you, Instagram account with hundreds of likes for displaying my work without credit. And you, tattoo parlour that used my work without my consent. And I didn’t forget about you, art student who plagiarized my work for an assignment. And you and you and you, dozens who have overtly stolen my art, posted without credit, or attempted to sell it for profit.

I’ve been creating artwork for years. And for years, most of it went unnoticed. In April 2016, an illustration of mine—a floral EKG line, captioned with the words “healing is not linear”—blew up online. It was an earlier piece in an affirmation series I decided to create. Now, I’ve made more than 100. It’s a labour of love—I don’t get paid to make these pieces that I post every Monday. I do it because it’s something I care deeply about, something I believe in. I have a day job to keep me afloat. I’ve paid my dues, and you, art thieves, swoop in and steal the fruits of my labour in an attempt to catapult yourself to sudden Instafame without the years of work that actually went into my social media rise.

I think it’s cute when you decide to answer my messages with a long story of how deeply the illustrations in my affirmations series—like “you have survived so much” written over a mountain range—resonated with you and how much you care about mental health. What about the mental health of the artist you stole from? It really tickles me pink when you quietly remove the work in question, without an apology or acknowledgement of your wrongdoing. It’s even worse when, after I call you out, you proceed to lecture me on how better to protect my work or how hard it was to find the source. You really know how to make a girl smile.

I know what you’re thinking: It’s “just art” and I’m “just an artist.” Who cares about the time and energy that went into making the piece? Its only purpose is to serve you, completely unattached from the artist who made it. It’s on the internet, so that must mean that everyone can use and exploit it, however they choose. Right? Wrong. It’s my work. I made it. It’s for me, the creator of it, first. It’s for those who see it, second, after I choose to put it online to show them. I own the work. It’s my blood, sweat, and tears.

You should know that my livelihood is important. Like you, I’m trying to make a name for myself in this world and earn some money doing what I love. I deserve to be paid for my labour. When you don’t credit me, I don’t get recognition and it affects my career. When you steal my work, you’re taking potential profits from me.

The saddest part, art thieves, is that all you had to do was ask for consent to use my work or recreate it for your own leisurely purposes. Most of the time, I say yes. Sincerely, The girl who creates the beautiful things you like to steal.

—HANA SHAFI

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