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October Drawing Challenges for Illustrators

Posted by Rebecca Blake on September 23, 2015

For illustrators, October means more than autumn leaves, Halloween, and the return of pumpkin-spice-everything. Two drawing challenges extended during the month inspire artists to up their technical skills, as well has have a great deal of fun. For the rest of us, the month means we get to scroll through feeds of often beautiful (and beautifully ghoulish) artwork.

Inktober logoInktober is the better-known challenge. It was initiated by illustrator Jake Parker as a way to motivate him to increase his inking skills. The challenge is simple: artists create ink-based work (pencil under-drawing is permitted), and post it to their social media accounts and blogs with the hashtag #inktober. Parker posts the best of the work on the Inktober Facebook, Tmblr, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts. The challenge encourages artists to post a new work daily, but many are only able to commit to every other day, or weekly posts. As Parker wrote, “INKtober is about growing and improving and forming positive habits, so the more you’re consistent the better.”

Drawolleen is a similar challenge with a different focus. Artist Brian Soria was inspired by Thing A Week, an exercise by musician Jonathon Coulter in which he posted weekly compositions to “keep his creative juices flowing.” Soria retooled the exercise to challenge himself to draw a monster every day during the month of October. He extended the challenge to the illustration community, with a calendar of daily themes such as “Day of the Dummy,” “Vampire Venesday,” and “Urban Legends.” Artists can contribute work in any medium, and post their images with #Drawlloween or #Drawlloween2015. Last year, Soria launched #fontober, a similar challenge for creepy hand-drawn lettering. Sadly the challenge didn’t get traction, and hasn’t issued this year.

Drawlloween logo

Library of Congress Technology Woes Shut Down Copyright Office

Posted by Rebecca Blake on September 14, 2015

Copyright Office logoCreators seeking to register their work online at the end of August were foiled by a system outage that took the electronic filing system offline. The outage lasted for nine days, from August 28th through September 5 and was caused, according to a report issued by the office, by the shutdown of a Library of Congress data center for scheduled maintenance. The Library’s information technology office was unable to bring the system back online for several days, costing the office about $650,000 in lost fees, as reported by The Washington Post.

The outage came on the heels of a damaging report by the Government Accountability Office, which accused the Library of failing to prioritize digital technology or effectively manage its computer systems. The Copyright Office, which is a department of the Library of Congress, uses the IT infrastructure – the network, servers, telecommunications, etc – maintained by the library.  In her testimony before the House Judicary Committee in April, Maria Pallante, Director of the Copyright Office, highlighted the need for the office to modernize, with technology staff independent from the Library and focused on the Office’s specific goals.

Terrence Hart covered the dilemma facing the Copyright Office in his article, “Outage shows need for Copyright Office modernization.” Hart points out the futility of housing the Copyright Office within the Library of Congress, considering that the two have distinct administrative needs and missions. He concludes by calling for Congress to give the office “the autonomy and resources it needs, without further delay.”

Orphan Works in Canada: Attempting Accountability

Posted by Rebecca Blake on September 02, 2015

The alarms sounded this summer about orphan works legislation, while unfounded (no such legislation is under consideration at this time), underscored the emotional resonance of the issue. Congress has long wanted to address the issue of orphan works, creative works whose author and copyright status are unknown. For a number of years, there has been a tremendous push by varied professions and industries – academics, museums, publishers, documentary filmmakers, the entertainment industry, and others – to pass legislation which would permit the use of orphan works without the fear of copyright infringement lawsuits. Creators are justifiably concerned that any legislation would weaken their copyright protection, or would enable businesses to use orphan works as a way of avoiding the cost of commissioning or licensing works.

Canada, however, does have in place a system that permits the use of orphan works, while attempting to protect the interests of creators. The Copyright Board of Canada has published a brochure outlining their system. A businesses or individual who desires to use an orphan work must first conduct a diligent search for the copyright holder, by contacting collective societies, doing Internet searches, and contacting publishers, libraries, museums, and educational institutions and ministries. Once a reasonable search has been conducted, the petitioner must fill out an application in writing which includes both a detailed description of the search for the copyright owner, as well as the intended use of the work.

Once the application is reviewed, and if the Board is satisfied that a diligent search was conducted for the copyright holder, it can issue a license and set a royalty fee for the usage. The license terms set the authorized use, such as number of copies, distribution, and expiration date. The royalty fee is not retained by the Board, but is distributed to whichever copyright collective society would represent the copyright holder. The collective societies may use the royalties in any way they see fit to benefit their members. However, if the copyright holder surfaces within five years after the expiration of the license, he or she is reimbursed the fee by the collective society.

To assist authors in monitoring what orphan works licenses have been granted, the Board’s website lists chronologically the licenses which have been issued going back to 1990. The site also lists the applications that have been denied, and gives the reason why. The system is somewhat limited, in that the license issued by the Board is only valid in Canada. However, the system enables those wishing to use orphan works for legitimate purposes to do so, while reducing any financial incentive to bypass illustrators and passing on to creators due compensation.

Screenshot from Copyright Board of Canada

Illustration Rep Changes Policy of Not Crediting Artists After Protest from Illustration Age

Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 24, 2015

Illustration Age logoIllustrator Thomas James reported on Illustration Age that he was startled to discover that artists representatives illozoo was not crediting their illustrators on their Instagram account (When an Art Rep Puts the Agency Before the Artist). In post after post showcasing beautiful illustration work, illozoo failed to credit the illustrators, instead referring to all as “illozoo illustrator.” Using his Illustration Age Instagram account, James asked why in the comments section, and got back the reply that “They are all illozoo artists. Anyone can see their work on our website.” In response, James posted the posted an illustrator’s name. That resulted in illozoo blocking the Illustration Age Instagram account.

The move wasn’t the most brilliant bit of PR on illozoo’s part; Illustration Age is one of the most respected illustration blogs, and has a huge following. (The Illustration Age Twitter account has over 27,000 followers alone.) However, the agency must have realized how poorly their Instagram practice reflected on them. James reported that subsequently, illozoo inserted the illustrator names into their Instagram posts (although Illustration Age remains blocked).  It’s a small but crucial victory; as James wrote, “If you’re an artist with an art rep (or are looking for one) ALWAYS be sure that the relationship is fair on both sides and that the agency respects you enough to say your name instead of only theirs.”

Recognizing the need to revisit best practices for illustrator reps, James followed up his illozoo article with a repost of illustrator Luc Latulippe’s list of 30 Things to Watch Out for in an Art Rep. The advice is comprehensive and commonsensical, and covers the basic questions an illustrator should ask an artists’ rep before committing to a relationship. It covers the ins and outs of publicity, fees, payment terms, and the working relationship, and will provide illustrators a clear picture of what to expect from their rep. In the comments beneath the article, illustrator Travis Foster summed up beautifully the key components of a successful illustrator/artists rep partnership: “Mutual respect and relationship... In a healthy relationship, both sides work hard to do their part and also trust each other in the process.”

Below: James’s screengrab of his exchange on the illozoo Instagram account. The Illustration Age comments have since been deleted by illozoo.

screengrab of the illozoo Instagram account

Yahoo Ads Delivered Malware as Hackers Leverage Flash Security Flaw

Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 20, 2015

Yahoo logoVisitors to Yahoo’s main website during the last week in July may have been exposed to malware. On August 3rd, security software company Malwarebytes reported on their blog that they had notified Yahoo as soon as they discovered the security flaw, and that Yahoo immediately took steps to remove the threat. According to Malwarebytes, “malvertising” is particularly insidious because it doesn’t require user interaction; merely browsing the website can cause the computer to be infected. After being redirected through two websites hosted on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, users’ computers downloaded the malware.

According to The New York Times’ Bits technology blog, the hackers exploited out-of-date versions of Flash Player. Adobe recommends that users keep their version of Flash up-to-date, and has a sniffer on their Flash download page that tells visitors what version of Flash they’re running. However, in light of repeated security breaches, there are mounting concerns with Flash. In mid-July, Alex Stamos, Chief Security Officer at Facebook, tweeted a call for Adobe to announce a retirement date for Flash. In a subsequent Twitter exchange, he pointed out that newer browsers no longer require Flash for video streaming. Since January, YouTube has used HTML5 by default in Chrome, IE 11, Safari 8.

Designers and animators creating media content will need to include HTML5 in their arsenal of professional skills. However, should Flash be retired in favor of HTML5, chances are security issues won’t be solved. As reported in InfoWorld, although it’s an improvement over Flash, HTML5 brings its own set of complex security flaws.

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