Copyright and the art of ripping someone off

I think about copyright a lot, as I’m sure many artists do. I’ve debated with myself about just how I want to handle copyright and licesing of my work. I’ve stuck mostly to the traditional flat copyright model, although I have toyed with the ideas that Larry Lessig birthed with the creation of the creative commons.

Lately there’s been a firestorm of activity on the internet that’s put this back in the front of my mind. Through Twitter I heard about John T. Unger. He’s a sculptor that creates these really nice artesian fire bowls, and in an odd twist of fate, Unger is being sued by the company that is ripping off his designs. The suit claims that Unger doesn’t have the right to copyright his firebowls.

ungerbowlImage from johntunger.comfirepit

Image from

It seems rather an amusing and stupid lawsuit when you consider the copyrights Unger filed for his designs and the documentation of said copyrights. Despite the seemig frivolity, Unger has already spent $50,000 out of pocket defending his designs.  That’s a lot of money, and when he got tapped out, he did what other enterprising types do. He took his case to the internet and has received overwhelming support (full disclosure, I participated in his Kickstart fund raiser and got myself a black fire imp.)

I’m not going to re-hash too much of it here, since you can read about it on The Consumerist, or just Google John T. Unger, I’m sure the hits will be numerous.

Instead now I want to mention something else I learned about on Twitter, which was the piracy of Wil Wheaton’s recent audiobook “Just a Geek” which was released and promptly offered for free download on some pirate website. The sweet irony of it was the website offering the free-illegal-download of the audiobook, was also making pleas to site visitors to click on sponsor ads to help HIM the audiobook-pirating-theif make money.

I think about all of this and I hope that when I start putting some of my work up available for download, images, e-books, and whatever else I come up with as this project evolves, I wonder what my first encounter with piracy will be and how I’ll react to it and handle it.

I’m nearing the point where I can deploy my website redesign, and the first stage will include free high resolution downloads of images. I’ve decided to release images downloaded this way under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

It’s a mouthful, I know, but I’m hoping that the larger part of my audience will respect the license and if people start using my work for commercial purposes or creation of derivative works, perhaps it will help me focus my market appeal.

Despite my copyright concerns I’m very excited about this new direction and I know it won’t lead to an immediate flood of interest or income related to my work but I’m hoping that this is a good foundation for me to build on.

Which reminds me, my new website is live, and while this is only stage one, without any of the media offerings I talked about before, I’ve put together the framework to build it on. The next step is going to be gathering my catalog of images I’ll be offering as free downloads and setting up the download gallery. If you want to check it out I’m at

–Spyros Heniadis

One Response to Copyright and the art of ripping someone off

  1. Tina says:


    Good luck with expanding your web presence.

    As for possible infringements of your copyrights, I agree with Jack White when he writes the following: “Remember this, no one can copy what you do. They may try, but you are the master. Let them try and don’t waste your energy putting watermarks on your images. Those who want to steal will know how to put your images in Adobe Photoshop and remove the protective watermarks. Thieves will steal and this is a fact. You can either stay upset over something you will never be able to stop, or you can just move forward with your plan of success. You keep on getting better and frustrate the heck out of them as they attempt to copy what you do. If you are sensitive about others copying your work, then a Website is not for you. Let me emphasize, if you are troubled that others will steal your ideas or designs, then DO NOT build a Website, because the entire world will have the ability to copy what you are doing. Your Webmaster will know how to keep your file size small. It is better to lose some in clarity than to have someone in Hong Kong be turning out unauthorized posters and prints.”
    Source: Jack White, “” The Mystery of Making it,” 1999 Revised 2004 and 2007

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