Lorem ipsum & thoughts on swiping other’s artwork

Wheat-pasted woodblock print lettering on vacant billboard, Chicago © Zoe McCloskey 2010

The New York Times 6th Floor Design blog recently featured artwork by Zoe McCloskey which should be familiar to graphic designers. In the image above Zoe takes individual block printed letters to spell out “Lorem ipsum dolor sit…”  The Times’ Hilary Greenbaum calls it “the most popular sentence in the world that is not meant to be read.”

To read more about Lorem ipsum, click the link above. You will find a link there to web site, Lipsum.com. To see more of Zoe McCloskey’s wheat-pasted street art check www.zoemccloskey.net.  Zoe got an email from the Times’ blog asking to use her image to illustrate this story. Of course, she was delighted. Not everyone is as nice as the NY Times about asking permission to use your artwork.

Everyday  graphic designers swipe images without attribution. You can do some things to protect your images. Don’t put images on the web at a higher resolution that 72 dpi. That way, at least you know your work is not likely to be reprinted.

Let people know you care about where your art goes.

If you have a website, or blog, a place where you put lots of images, let folks know in writing how you feel about them using your work. For example, a student recently pointed me toward a charming historical web comic,Kate Beaton’s Hark A Vagrant.  Here’s how Beaton deals with reader’s questions about re-using her artwork.

harkavagrant.com @ 2011 Kate Beaton

Q: Can I use one of your comics for this paper I’m writing/class I’m teaching/blog post I am writing?  A: Sure! If you’re not making a profit on it and you cite me correctly, why that’s just fine!

Q: Can I use one of your comics as a basis for this script I’m writing/in my book/my online app/some other enterprise? A: That’s trickier, you may have to talk to my agent, but write to me anyway and outline your ideas, and we can work out fees and rights of use and that sort of thing.

Q: Can I use a drawing for a tattoo or can you draw me a tattoo?  A: Oh dear, I am really uncomfortable with this idea! Get an anchor on your bicep, not a fat pony on the small of your back.

Add a Copyright © Notice to Your Image

Before you put your art or illustration up on the web always add your copyright info into the image’s metadata. It is not that difficult. With the image open in Photoshop, open “File Info.” You will get a dialogue box like the sample below, where I put the copyright info for a print I created. On a Mac, in most fonts, the © symbol becomes available by hitting the option key and the letter “g.” Folks can still swipe it, but at least you should be able to prove the work is yours.

Below is another of Zoe’s street images.”Let’s Meet Here.” She says the building owner painted over this message as soon as she put it up.

Let's Meet Here. Wheat paste on wall. Brooklyn © 2009 Zoe McCloskey

Zoe’s most photographed artwork was from New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She pasted bandages over a house that was destroyed by Katrina. More images can be found here. Even though Zoe and other street artists are essentially putting their work out there for free, it still isn’t right to swipe the work without attribution.

Bandages wheat-pasted to house, New Orleans, 2009 © Zoe McCloskey

“Even if you are just making a neighborhood flyer or obscure blog entry, images can spread like wildfire these days. It’s always the right thing to give credit when due.” – Lincoln Cushing.

Design historian Lincoln Cushing has written extensively about swiping art on his docspopuli.org website. He is particularly angry, rightly so, when artists make money from the swiped images with no respect for the original creator. As he puts it, “don’t contribute to our own historical amnesia.” Here is his essay on Best Practices for using the Graphic Artwork of Others.  I recommend it. Cushing shows some practical examples of ways to credit the original artists, even if you can’t contact them, or don’t even know their names.

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