hmmmmm....I've never done any character "recreations" before, but wanted to do a quick little satire piece on the Alec Monoply and "Momi" ie Mike Mozart situation. It really raises some questions about work for hire, collaboration, originality...and of course...the almighty dollar...and fame. This painting is not for sale, it was simply to create a satirical piece for my own amusement, and to add a pretty picture to this blog post, hahaha!!
For those of you who don't know who Alec Monopoly is, or Mike Mozart, here's a quick recap: Alec Monopoly is a street artist who sells his paintings for tens of thousands of dollars to celebrities, wall street members, hedge fund owners, etc. He uses the Monopoly Man character, Richie Rich and other well know characters in his artwork, hence the name Alec "Monopoly". He recently garnered even more main stream fame when collaborating with Forever 21 on a line of clothing and accessories. He is also quite frequently seen hob knobbing with Scott Disick of the Kardashian family fame. He has also stirred up controversy for always covering his face with a bandana or some other method, he says he does this because he creates some illegal graffiti art and doesn't want to be recognized, although it is fairly easy to find out who he really is with a quick internet search...wink, wink. He has an Instagram following of over 320,000 followers.
Mike Mozart is most well-known for his YouTube videos posting funny failed toy reviews, under the name "Jeepers Media" with subscribers topping over 415,000. He also states that he has done character work for years for large companies and books under licensing agreements/work for hire. He also says to have appeared 100's of times on QVC and HSN as a Product Pitchman. He is now posting his Monopoly character artwork on Instagram as well as the sketches he claims he created for Alec.
So, why am a posting about these two, and why is it relevant and important for other artists to take note? Well, it came to light in mid to late 2015 that Mike Mozart was actually the "ghost artist" for some of Alec's work, particularly involving the Monopoly Man paintings, for the past five years. It raises some very real issues for artists to be concerned about when it comes to copyrights, work for hire, collaborations, etc., anything to do with working with another artist or company with your art.
Lot's of artists hire other artists and designers to do a portion of their work for them, this is fairly standard in the art industry, and in the agreements it's usually detailed as to the scope of work and credit that will be provided, or not, and the royalty or flat fee to be paid, length of of use, etc.. Many artists will even sell some of their art outright for a flat fee and receive no credit whatsoever on the finished product, particularly so in the fashion industry with fabric patterns. What is interesting about this particular situation is that even though Mike admits to working with Alec for 5 years as a "ghost artist" he claims to have "never signed anything! I never agreed to anything!" (quoted directly from his comment on this Instagram post). Mike appears to now regret working with Alec, ie the following quote from his Instagram comment in reference to a discussion about working with Alec: "I'm going out of my way to collaborate with other artists to help build their careers (which he has claimed he was doing for Alec as well), rather than exploit them and claim their work as my own. Artists should be supporting other artists. Not using them as a cash ATM Machine!" This really raises the question of why he would continue to let Alec claim his work as his own, knowing full well it wasn't, and allowing this to go on for five years, and now is calling foul play.... As an artist who has claimed that he's worked with other companies in the past in a licensing capacity as an illustrator, I would think Mike would understand the importance of having a contract in place with everything outlined in order to protect both sides, I'm curious as to why this never happened, if indeed that is the case. And at this point in time there hasn't been an explanation, although Alec's side claims there were documents signed outlining their working agreement as "work for hire", again, no public proof exists either way , so we are left questioning what kind of arrangement these two actually had. All we know for sure is that Mike Mozart did create art specifically for Alec Monopoly to use for a period of five years, ending in 2015.
One of the main issues I would like to address that arises from this situation is, the importance of contracts from the very beginning, even if doing business with friends and family, particularly friends and family! Verbal agreements can often be easily and innocently misconstrued, especially as time goes by and people change, events change, more verbal agreement added to what was initially agreed on, etc. So, please, always make sure you have a written contract in place so that both sides know exactly what the business arrangement is from the very start. It will prevent sooooo many headaches down the road, trust me!
Mike Mozart posts quite frequently to his Instagram page with his Monopoly Man art (and a few other well-known characters) and adds in the caption how he used to create the art for Alec Monopoly but no longer collaborates with him. He has also claimed that he is not doing this for fame, but rather to bring attention to the matter. Mike agreed to a collaboration of some sort with Alec for five years, and there has been no mention of this being a situation where Mike was forced to create the work and give it to Alec, it appears to have been willingly provided by Mikes choice. Mike claims in his Instagram comments that he is defending artists whose work has been exploited by other artists, just as he was with Alec. But, this wasn't just a one time deal, it happened over a fiver year period with (Mike claims) 100's of designs being authorized by Mike for Alec to use. This simply isn't a case of one artist taking another artists work without permission, this is a case where there was some sort of agreement for the art to be used. It appears that once Alec started to reach real main stream fame, ie the Forever 21 deal, and demand higher prices for his original paintings, Mike no longer wanted to work with Alec, which is fine, but why make it such a huge public issue/calling out? When you agree to work with somebody at a set price, that is what your agreement is, regardless of how much money they make off your work. You can of course renegotiate over time if you see the popularity increase and the other party making more money from your art, but the other party might not want to pay you more, and that's fine. If you can't come to an agreement that works for both of you, you move on, that's business. However, it isn't okay to bash the other person publicly because you no longer like the terms you initially agreed upon, or couldn't renegotiate those terms to either parties liking, this is just bad business. Again, why it is so important to have everything outlined in a contract with every possible issue being addressed at the very beginning. But if you don't do this and things take a turn for the worse, the only person to blame is you for not having made the right business choices. We all have to take responsibility for our choices in life, and business is no different. It's nice to be able to help other artists out, but the reality is that when you are dealing with money/business it can get very ugly quickly unless you have the proper protection, ie contract(s), in place.
And another issue that needs to be addressed is copyrights. One thing I've noticed when searching art on Instagram, is that many artists have jumped on the Monopoly guy art bandwagon; it seems every up and coming artists is painting some version of the Monopoly Man, and even some more well established artists are doing the same, along with other cartoon/comic book characters. At this point in time it doesn't seem as though Hasbro is cracking down on anyone for appropriating the character into their art and selling it, but that isn't to say that at some point they may chose to do just that. So, a word of caution here, just because everyone else is doing it doesn't make it okay, and doesn't mean it isn't a copyright violation. If it isn't your original art, your original character, don't take a chance of getting sued, if anything contact the original creator and get permission...in writing of course! But, in my opinion it's always better to be an original anyway :) It's also interesting how a lot of Mike's Instagram "supporters" recommend to Mike that he should sue Alec for copyright infringement... Well, first off it's not copyright infringement if you personally "let" the person use your work for the purpose of creating art to sell, and even more so if it was a "work for hire" situation as Alec and his team claim, and secondly they don't own the copyright to the Monopoly Man character, so they can't sue each other regardless. Mike has also repeatedly told people in his Instagram comments, that because these are one of a kind, fine art paintings with no reproductions it isn't considered a copyright infringement on the Hasbro character, unfortunately this is completely wrong and I hope no other artists take this as being truth! Just because Hasbro is fine with it doesn't mean every other intellectual property owner will be okay with someone appropriating their work.
Here is the legal definition of copyright infringement: "Copyright infringement is the use of works protected by copyright law without permission, infringing certain exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the protected work, or to make derivative works."
Even displaying a copy of someone's original art can be considered copyright infringement, and creating derivative works is definitely a no-no, which is what Alec Monopoly and Mike Mozart are both doing. Yes, they may have permission from Hasbro to use the character (Alec states he has permission), but that doesn't mean that Hasbro is necessarily going to allow everyone to do so, and other character owners may not be so generous. Ultimately if someone chooses to sue for copyright infringement it would be up to a judge or jury to determine whether or not it was actually an infringement. But the real kicker is how much that will cost you if you take a chance...anywhere from $100,000 (on the low end) and up JUST for lawyers fees, JUST to defend yourself, and if you lose...well...just don't do it to begin with, because it can pack a hefty fine of up to $150,000 for EACH infringement...and...you could end up having to pay the other parties lawyer fees along with your own, yikes!!
I hope this article helps other artists be aware of the importance of having contracts in place at the very beginning of any agreement that involves your art. And to be very careful what you are creating in order to avoid any copyright issues. It will be interesting to see, if anything, what comes out of all of this, or if we ever know the real truth behind Alec and Mikes agreement. For now let us use this as an example of "what not to do" when collaborating with others with our art, and how to professionally handle any business falling out we may have to deal with.
Interesting to note that when I asked for an explanation from Mike Mozart (on his Instagram) as to why he continued to "collaborate/work" with Alec for five years, and now has nothing but negative things to say about Alec and how Alec supposedly exploited Mike, he chose to personally attack me and allow other people to use foul language and throw insults at me. Hmmmmmm...this only raises a lot more unanswered questions...
One of the pitfalls of an artist that lists and sells on the internet, is the never ending copies of their artwork. I have fallen victim to so many unauthorized copies of my art it's just ridiculous!! I find them through collector's, fans and licensing partners who notify me of possible infringements and I also receive google alerts for my name and specific keywords that alert me of copyright infringements. I can also do specific image searches on Google that will often unearth infringements.
The constant need to police my art can be so very draining at times, but I have come to accept that it's an unfortunate part of the business of the internet these days. Having said that however, it is still wrong and should NOT happen! I follow up on each and every instance of these infringements, which can be very time consuming and frustrating, especially when many of these infringer's are less than cooperative and come up with all kinds of excuses; when there really is no excuse to use someone's art without their permission, especially when it's so very easy to contact artists through the internet.
One of the most common excuses I receive is the infringer saying they were only "Inspired" by my art, and it's not an actual copy because it isn't a direct print out of my art. This however is still NOT okay, only the original creator of a piece of artwork is allowed to create derivative copies, and the 10% rule, or any other percentage rule is not a legal defense. By the 10% rule I mean when someone claims they changed up 10% of an original artwork in some way gets them off the hook...uh, no it doesn't!
It's always so much better, not to mention more artistically rewarding, to create your own unique artwork than to copy someone's else's. I want to show some examples of infringing copies versus art that is inspired by someone else. There is a HUGE difference and it needs to be pointed out to so many artists, some who know what they are doing is wrong and some who innocently don't understand, but need to.
Inspiration can be anything that makes you want to create, whether it be a sunset you see, a painting of a particular scene, a photograph of a distant location, the colors on a butterfly, you name it, inspiration is everywhere! And I am constantly inspired by anything and everything around me. I recently saw this beautiful painting created by Walfrido on his Facebook page of a stunning tropical sunset. I've been a huge fan of his work for many years, mostly because of his subject matter of serene and peaceful ocean/tropical scenes, and his use of color is breathtaking. I instantly felt compelled to create a tropical sunset painting myself, but here is where the inspiration ended and my own unique style and vision came into play, which is how it should be when we are inspired. Inspiration is about seeing something and being moved by it, moved to create something completely new and unique, not about copying the inspiration itself.
Shown above is the inspiration of Walfrido's stunning tropical painting to my PoP Art Style Tropical painting. This is when inspiration works and is NOT a copy or an infringement of another artists work, this is about being emotionally inspired by something someone else created and creating a totally new and unique work of art.
Now, on the flip side of the coin there are paintings that take "inspiration" to a whole different level that IS copyright infringement. Look at the example below, my art is on the left and the copies on the right, the resemblance is too exact to be anything but a direct copy and no inspiration to create something new ever occurred. There is no excuse for this kind of copyright infringement, especially considering these copies were profited from!
I found this infringement some time ago when searching for paint party studios (many of which have a disturbing frequency of copying artists work without permission), and I saw the inset image as shown below labelled "Fall Moonlight" listed on a calendar for a painting class. The image is literally a direct copy of my "Fall Inspiration" painting from 2007 (to the left); I did some more searching and found their Facebook page where the larger image was shown as one of the copies from the class, as it had already occurred. This is a clear cut case of copyright infringement and shows a complete lack of disrespect for artists and the law. There is no inspiration here at all, it's just copying my art and profiting from it, no one asked my permission to use it nor did they offer to compensate me for it. I sent them a cease and desist and they discontinued using it.
The purpose of this blog post is to make people aware of the difference between being inspired by someone else's art and copying art that is a direct violation of copyright law. I hope this is helpful for many of you, and also a post that you can share as reference to anyone who might be confused about the difference. Thank you!!
There is a very disturbing trend in the "Business of Art", a new way of copying artists work and profiting from it without any recognition or compensation to the artist. It goes under the guise of being a "paint party studio". The premise behind this type of business, which can be legitimate and a fun way for family and friends to go out and get in touch with their creative side, is to enjoy an evening out and learn how to paint a particular image in a few hours that you can then take home with you. Each class can be anywhere from a handful of patrons to a room full, upwards of 50 people, learning how to all paint the same painting.
Typically the artwork that is being "taught" has either been created by the teacher themselves, the owner of the establishment or licensed to be used by another artist who then receives royalties and copyright recognition of the original artwork. But, what is beginning to happen, as this type of business is becoming immensely popular, is that the owners of the paint party studios begin to look for "inspiration" for new artwork to teach from. Unfortunately, far too many of the owners go to "Pinterest" or "Google Images" and simply take images directly from these and other online sources and teach a roomful of people to paint artwork wholly created by another artist. The owner or teacher claims it to be their original idea and at no time do they bother to contact or give recognition or compensation to the original creator/artist of said artwork.
Not only is this in violation of U.S. copyright laws (Under 17 U.S.C. 504) and illegal, but it's immoral to take another artists work and claim it as your own and profit from it. These are all "For Profit" businesses and not the same situation as a class where you are learning to paint different techniques and styles such as in college, so the "Fair Use" copyright code simply does not apply here. This is more like "paint by numbers" that is fun and enjoyable to the patrons, but, in many cases, harmful to the artists whose work is being illegally profited from.
As an artist who is continually fighting these establishments, who repeatedly take my original art and claim it as their own, I have finally got to the point where I can no longer sit back and wait for it to happen again, as it surely well. It needs to be brought to the public's attention that many of these companies are not doing business legitimately or legally, and at the expense of artists striving to make a living with their art.
If you are interested in taking a class at one of these studios, please make a simple inquiry prior to signing up, and ask them where they get their art from and that you are aware that sometimes artists work is stolen without compensation or recognition to the artist and you don't want to support that kind of behavior. If these companies know that they are being watched and "policed" to prevent this from happening it CAN make a difference.
Please support artists who are trying to make a living with their art, it's not an easy career choice by any means. It takes a lot of creativity, imagination, hard work and endless hours of marketing to make a living as an artist. So, every time someone steals an artist's work and doesn't compensate them they are taking money out of that artists pocket and going against all the hard work and effort that artist has put into their livelihood and passion. It is also very damaging to an artist's business to have no control over who reproduces their art, where it is displayed, who is profiting from it, etc, it is bad for business and an artist's brand.
Below is just one example of my own art being copied in a Wine and Paint Party Studio out of New York without my permission or recognition/compensation in any way. There is NO question where they got their "inspiration" from, this goes far beyond inspiration and is a direct copy of my painting.
This is an illegal copy situation of my original copyright registered painting "Dreaming in Gold"©.
I, and many other artists license our work to a very reputable Paint Party Establishment that respects the rights of artists and provides us with recognition and compensation for the use of our art images: Uptown Art, with locations across the country and more coming soon. Please know that if you frequent Uptown Art paint parties you are helping to support living artists and having fun at the same time!!
Here are some great resources on both what is and isn't in the "Public Domain" and whether it is or isn't okay to copy and sell someone else's art. As more come available I will add to the list and be sure to share with me any pertinent information you have as well, in order to help fix and prevent this out of control copyright infringement issue.
Another great blog post by fellow artist Alex Colombo on: "Inspiration of Infringement"