29 Dec Copyright Infringement Dispute Highlights Issues of Plagiarism on Social Media
Illustrator Ally Burguieres discovered this past Fall that one of her illustrations was posted to Taylor Swift’s social media accounts. The work was a copy of an illustration Burguieres sells as a print, and the fan who copied the work signed her own name rather than including Burguieres’ credit line. Swift apparently posted a snapshot of the fan’s post to her Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram accounts to promote her 1989 tour. After a year of negotiating with Swift’s representatives, Burguieres posted on Facebook that while her infringing work was immediately removed from Swift’s account, she was offered a four-figure compensation with the stipulation that she donate the amount to an animal charity. She refused the offer since it did not include her primary request: that her work be credited to her. (Swift’s representatives dispute this account.)
In light of Swift’s outspoken support of artists’ rights, the dispute received a lot of attention. Burguieres declined to pursue the matter any further. In an interview in Hyperallergic, Burguieres stated that she was satisfied with the attention the dispute brought to the issue of plagiarism. She put her finger on the issue artists have with the culture of sharing: “I know it’s a sharing culture now, and I have no problem with sharing artwork and having a collaborative culture as long as it’s credited.”
For individual illustrators, copies of their work made by fans creates a situation complicated by the illustrators’ reliance on licensing income to support their livelihood. On one hand, the adulation of a true fan is affirming and copies of the illustrator’s work can, if properly credited to the illustrator, generate publicity. On the other hand, fan art can dilute the licensing value of an illustration. Some illustrators are tolerant of fan art. Others who request that fans refrain from publishing copies of their work – something well within their rights – are often excoriated as greedy.
In Burguieres’ case, the situation was further complicated by the fact that the Taylor Swift fan who copied and posted Burguieres’ work signed her own name to it. Swift and members of her team were not aware that the image was pirated. The ease with which the image was reposted to Swift’s multiple social media accounts – and from there, reposted, downloaded, and shared countless times – essentially meant that as soon as the fan uploaded the copy, Burguieres lost any semblance of control over her image.
Of course, the situation would have had a different outcome had some common sense (and basic courtesy) been followed. The fan should not have signed her name to an illustration that was a close copy of someone else’s work. (In fairness to the fan, she appears to be young and naïve – the case makes a good argument for adding copyright awareness to high school art curricula.) Swift’s publicity team should also have credited the original illustrator once the piracy came to light. After all, credit for her creation was the outcome Burguieres desired the most: “It shouldn’t be that difficult to give credit.”
At top of page: Burguieres’ side-by-side comparisons of her illustration and Swift’s social media post. (© Ally Burguieres, used with permission of the artist)