I'm writing a new journal prompted by a reaction to a policy, which is a semi-regular feature here and which is the main reason I think so many people actually watch my account (since I'm fairly inactive with the Art as of late). I'd like to thank those people who actually watch my journal space and who actually read my news and updates because I do try to disseminate very important bits of information and provide some sort of view about why CEA functions the way it does.
Those of you who take the time to be educated and informed make it all worthwhile, not to mention the fact that you provide a stunning contrast to those who snap off based on rumor and misinformation and who speak without first actually digesting the situation properly.
And, due to those people who don't bother to read we've once again watched a wave of misinformation and drama sweep across the community and tick off a whole bunch of people for no reason whatsoever.
Firstly, I want to state that I'm not going to be pigeonholed into simply addressing tracing because the policy addresses copying in general and tracing is one method among many which involve copying.
Secondly I will clarify that the policy on copying as currently written and as it's been written for at least two years now clearly states that if someone copies your work in a substantial way and you file a complaint the deviantART staff will enforce your wishes and remove the copied work.
The news article clarifying our policy on this said that, nice and clearly too, but most of the people screaming and yelling and flinging aggressive commentary around never bothered to get that far and if they did they read selectively or deliberately added the Evil to what was written there.
I really shouldn't be surprised. I don't really want to insult anyone's intelligence by writing CEA updates in a simplistic "See-Spot-Run" format, but sometimes I wonder how far some people get into an update before they come to a conclusion and set their minds on it.
I do appreciate those of you who did successfully read through it and who successfully absorbed the entire thing as opposed to selective pieces of it.
So once again, for those who are just skimming and probably missed what I've said before, if someone substantially copies your work and you complain to us about it we'll be on your side and not the side of the copier more often than not.
It may surprise some of you but that's the way it's always been, and the sheer number of people who missed the portion of the news where we talk about that saddens me because it shows exactly how many people didn't bother to really read the entire article.
But enough about my disappointment in the low level of reading comprehension demonstrated by many, let's talk about the article a little bit.
A lot of people are focused, to the point of being blinded, on the subject of tracing but what the article actually addresses is copying in general. That is because tracing is just one form of copying and I've seen plenty of comments and even had a few notes where the writer denounces tracing as some sort of supreme evil and then in the next breath extols upon the virtues of "Referencing" or "Eyeballing" or some other word which essentially means "redrawing what somebody else drew first".
Now tracing is a method of creation and doesn't have much to do with the way the final image is presented and you can say the same about "referencing" and "eyeballing" and all those other words that mean "copy" and as far as official policy is concerned it doesn't matter how
you copied your material it only matters that you copied
it so policy and the way we react to reports will not differentiate between the methods and it is why I refuse to limit this discussion to the method of tracing only.
You can say whatever you want about the individual methods of copying; you can say that they are short cuts, promote laziness, are unoriginal, cause stagnation, that most artists who copy routinely aren't really serious or will never really develop, and I guarantee you that I will personally agree with many of those statements and more but we have to bear in mind that those statements are striking more towards the believed motivation and seriousness of the artist and if we're going to do that then we can lump in a whole bunch of other works and techniques.
There are tons of amateurish artworks posted on the site where you could easily look at the work, the artists comments, their expressed attitude and apply those same labels; Lazy, Unoriginal, No Future, Not Serious, Not Art.
Let's talk about that last label; "Not Art".
A lot of people like to throw around a lot of the "Not Art" labels in regards to this subject but seriously whose standards are we using to determine the Art or Not Art argument?
Is it my standard? Because my standard is incredibly high and maybe as much as three quarters of the galleries wouldn't meet the standard I might set if we did that sort of thing.
Is it the standard of some fourteen year old kid who just spent fourteen straight hours playing Sonic Unleashed
or the sixteen year old girl whose entire deviantART comment history is filled with "kWAIII!!! So kyoot!"?
Deciding what is "Art" and what is "Not Art" is truly a decision that cannot be agreed upon when we have a community of millions.
Method of creation is not a determining factor either, for those of you who want to pursue that route.
I've seen passionate arguments attacking photography as "Not Art" because the act of creation is limited to placing a small device against your face and pressing a button. I've seen thousands of breathtaking photographs in my lifetime and yet I've also seen people completely dismiss them as Not Art because it didn't involve much more than point-and-click in their opinion.
I've even seen digital art itself dismissed as Not Art because it didn't involve paints, or pencils, or paper, or canvas, or any of those other traditional items with which artists have gotten their hands dirty over the centuries.
deviantART was founded to be a place where all artists were welcome, and since I've been around I've seen a few discussions about whether or not we needed to start defining the Art or Not Art question; whether we should decide whether something belonged in a gallery or in a scrapbook away from the "Good Stuff"; moderate for quality, begin moderating for specific content.
Regardless of the discussion deviantART was founded to be an open and inclusive place where all types of artists were welcome regardless of how serious they were about their art, regardless of how talented or imaginative they were and a place where they would be welcomed without any judgments as to the quality of the work they produced and a place where we would keep the restrictions on content as minimal as possible.
This decision has ticked off people; I see crude and amateurish works reported as "Ugly" or "Garbage"; "Not Good Enough" so we should delete it. We see nude photographs reported because they are "Not Artistic Enough". And now of course people are carrying on with much drama about "Tracing".
The thing that sets copied art apart from those other "Not Art" subjects is the fact that a lot of people are flinging about copyright laws and breaking them; and quite a few are revealing that they have only a basic grasp of this at the same time.
No, I'm not a lawyer but I could be considered well read on the subject as a layman since 2002 and while I cannot give out any sort of valid legal advice I have spent quality time with a very talented and experienced copyright attorney who works for deviantART and who is extremely knowledgeable.
People love to wield copyright law as if it's a sword to be used to strike people down; hell just check out a few of the comments on my last news article if you don't believe me, I'm surprised somebody's eye hasn't been poked out by now.
A lot of people have also become a bit panicked by the heated discussions lately, running around in the proverbial circle loudly wondering whether or not their work is " protected " here on deviantART, proclaiming that our policy is somehow completely and totally incorrect and without any valid basis.
I am fairly proud of the community here because we have cultivated something of a unique environment where people are very aware of artist's rights and an artist's control over their own work; this is incredibly rare on the Internet where a culture of unauthorized use, infringement, and blatant theft is more the norm.
We are, in fact, such a tightly woven and supportive community on this subject that the pendulum has probably swung a bit too far towards being too restrictive with people's views on copyright tending towards the extreme; that copyright law is a mighty sword which is to be used by glorious knight protectors to hack down bandits wherever they should be found.
But copyright law isn't a law defining state intervention; there isn't a "copyright police" who will sweep in and enforce copyright law on the behalf of an injured artist. Copyright defines personal rights that are enforced personally.
The law was written with the idea of providing rights and protections for creative individuals but it was also written at the same time for the benefit of the public and other artists. Some wise person a very long time ago realized that the public benefits from the output of creative individuals; artwork, literature, inventions, all of this stuff benefits and enriches everyone. They also realized that creative people might be reluctant to actually create and share their creations if they thought their rights as creator would be trampled the moment their creation became public. The idea is to give authors a chance to make money so that they have a reason, not just a pure passion, to create. If artists were going to feed the culture then artists should be able to feed themselves and copyright is the mechanism for this. So copyright protection laws and other legislation came into being which helped reinforce creator's rights and give them means to assert their rights as owners so that, ultimately, the public culture could benefit because creators would have the confidence and incentive to release their creations.
Because the purpose of copyright law is both to benefit the public as well as the creative individual it is specifically designed to shoot itself in the foot, so to speak; exceptions were built in specifically to benefit the public and limit the control of the owner under certain circumstances.
The first thing which you could consider to be an exception is the fact that only the owner or their authorized representative can enforce their copyright. This means essentially there is no general purpose "copyright police" cruising through the Internet looking for infringements and protecting everybody altruistically, the closest thing to that is limited to teams of employees working on behalf of specific companies.
This restriction that only the owner or an authorized representative is able to act to protect his or her copyright has carried through every change to copyright law; the current DMCA notification process includes a requirement that you state, under penalty of perjury, that you are either the owner or authorized to act on behalf of the owner.
Now, if you've been paying attention you'll notice that every single website which hosts content except
for deviantART won't even acknowledge you if you aren't the owner or their legal representative. A prime example; if you want to flag something for copyright infringement on YouTube you have to click the link that says "This violates MY copyright"
. Go check it out and check out any other website for their takedown procedure.
deviantART is different. We're a community of artists created by artists and I enjoy knowing that we respond to a wider range of complaints if they come from members of deviantART. Restricting reports solely to copyright owners about actual infringements of technical copyright laws would drastically reduce the number of reports ,so it would be a huge benefit from a time and efficiency standpoint alone, but I think doing only that would be a disservice to a community of artists who are so supportive of one another. When an artist wants to call anything to the attention of deviantART's administrators, they just can.
Unfortunately we seem to have really spoiled the deviantART community; not only spoiled in that people are shocked and surprised how difficult it is to file a complaint or even be heard on other websites but also that people react very, very badly when they think we've moved in a direction which doesn't completely support them.
And that brings us to another of those restrictions built directly into copyright law; Fair Use.
The law of copyright, while written to protect the work of artists, also has protections built in for the public, including other artists, when they use, borrow or incorporate the copyrighted works of others. Some of these protections are called Fair Use.
The Fair Use exception is actually hugely complicated and is written deliberately to be rather nonspecific; sort of a "grey " or "fuzzy" area. Fair use is necessarily fuzzy because it balances the conflict between the protection of your copyrighted works and the use of your copyrighted works in ways necessary for the free or at least open exchange of culture.
Fair Use is actually far too complicated and nuanced for me to attempt to explain here so we'll limit it to the subject at hand; copying.
Fair use permits Jeff Koons, [link]
, to make and sell much of his sculpture which is largely derivative of cultural icons, many of which are copyrighted in their original states. Fair use permitted Andy Warhol to do silkscreen works incorporating famous, copyrighted photographs. [link]
, I would think that most people who claim to know their copyright law will remember his paintings of the Campbell's Soup can and the fracas that it caused at the time.
At a more basic level we could even call what these artists did a sort of Fan Art. It may not be the most accurate way to describe it but it allows me to transition to my next point.
When I personally talk about copied work you'll notice I tend to lump all Fan Art into that category; this pisses some people off but when you look at it objectively whether you've drawn the character Inuyasha, from the animated series of the same name, from scratch or copied an animation cell from the series at the root level you've copied somebody elses work so forgive me if I refuse to split hairs on this subject.
People have decided to have major problems with the fact that official policy tolerates copied animation cells as a form of fan art as long as we receive no official complaints from the rights holder.
Now, copyright law doesn't require that an owner enforce their rights, they are not required to police or attempt to stop infringements in any way , in fact they can be extremely selective in where and when they press their rights and their level of protection under copyright doesn't suffer one bit.
The fact of the matter is that many entertainment corporations freely and openly encourage and support the use of their properties and some others deliberately but quietly turn a blind eye to it. While I cannot speculate on their exact reasons I can say with some certainty that many of these companies have weighed the benefit of the free promotion and fan attachment and loyalty represented by fan art against the need to sternly protect their copyright by crushing the life out of fan art. Those that tolerate it have obviously decided that the negative impact associated with suppressing fan art, the time, effort, expense and damage to fan loyalty, simply outweighs the need to strictly control their copyrighted property.
This is why official policy is tolerant of this type of copied fan art to a certain point and it is why we classify it differently from a situation where your own personal work has been substantially copied. The owners of copyright in works that reach the level of fan art obsession in some way induced the obsession themselves (and typically make big money from it) and because of that it can be said that the use of the work in fan art to express the exact obsessive response the copyright owner wants includes a sort of implied license.
Outside of the context of fan art, even if you poll our own community here at deviantART you'll find a range of opinions in regards to the subject; some people won't care if they are copied, some do, and some are so restrictive that they report things which hardly resemble their own works.
The bottom line is that we cannot read the minds of the thousands of owners whose works are routinely copied through fan art; it is why we place so much more weight on reports from actual owners in these cases rather than those of unrelated people. But at all times we try our best to keep ourselves on the side of the independent artist and to act when we should act.
We know that the big corporations have the resources to police and protect their copyright if they choose to do so and we also realize that many have chosen to ignore it providing the fan art remains non-commercial in nature. We don't allow Fan Art to be sold through our print store because obviously fan art is full of copyrighted characters and we won't be involved in any commercial exploitation of those characters.
For the independent artist who makes up the vast majority of our community here at deviantART, we will continue to be supportive of your wishes when it comes to situations where your work has been copied, but please bear in mind that we will always be trying to strike a delicate balance so that the works you create can inspire other artists to move in new directions.
For those people who have persevered and once again managed to read another one of my "Too Long; Didn't Read" journals in its entirety I thank you. Regardless of whether or not you agree you've presumably digested what I had to say and therefore informed yourself and made my task here worthwhile and as always your intelligent and informed commentary is welcome on the subject.