An artist recently reached out to us expressing his concerns over a website called Wallpart. Apparently he found one of his photographs on this site being offered for sale. The thing is, he never authorized this site to sell his work. In fact, they were selling his art print at a steeply reduced price–far less than what he would normally charge for one of his prints.
The entire site is sketchy. It claims, in a long, convoluted and inaccurate argument, that it is not committing copyright infringement. But it is in fact doing just that. Many artists have spoken out on online forums stating that the site is selling their work without permission. Whenever anyone sells the work of another without an artist’s permission, it is copyright infringement.
So what resources does an artist have when his work is being sold by another, without the artist’s permission? This case is particularly tricky because it is online, and it does not appear to be a US-based website. While it claims a mailing address in Australia, it’s ICAAN registration has it listed in Nassau. According to some accounts, the website is actually Russian. The information the registrant supplied to ICAAN in order to obtain the site is vague at best, with little to no contact information. The email contact is a complex, convoluted email, and does not mirror a standard company email. Even if one could find an actual person to deliver court documents to, there is no guarantee a foreign national would show up in court. When a party to a suit does not show, the court will usually make a default ruling in favor other party. But it would be a paper victory only.
The site does have a link to DMCA-required take-down information, but when clicked it leads the user to an error page. In order for websites to make use of the “safe-harbor” rule under the DMCA (which limits their liability for third-party infringement), they must clearly state how a user can send a take-down notice to the website to remove infringing content. Of course if the entire site is infringing the work of artists, it probably doesn’t care about the DMCA safe-harbor rule.
Such a site may require investigation and shut-down by ICAAN, or investigated by the FBI’s internet crimes unit. Unfortunately, like all sites of this nature, the people behind it will merely create another online identity.
In the meantime, artists can take some action. The Visual Artist’s Rights Act (VARA) grants artists rights over the attribution of their work. It grants artists the right to disclaim fraudulent works–for example prints created without their permission. But the artist must limit his prints to under 200 in order to qualify for protection under VARA. Further, artists are strongly recommended to register their work with the Copyright Office in order to take advantage of things like statutory damages and reclamation of attorney’s fees and court costs. Registration has become particularly important given the proliferation of websites like Wallpart.
There will always be unscrupulous people who take advantage. The spate of massive hacking attacks are evidence of that. And unfortunately, technology is always ahead of the law. But the more artists speak out about sites like this and raise awareness, the more likely it is officials will listen and adapt laws accordingly.