Tattoo artists have some serious problems on their hands. It seems that an agency committed to helping them prevent copyright infringement is doing more harm than help.
The Artist Legal Alliance, a non-profit, RIAA-like enforcement agency for tattoo artists around the world, has been stepping up attacks on anyone selling tattoo related products on eBay and Craigslist. The problem is, that in their attacks, they’ve been hurting a lot of legitimate sellers and copyright owners in an attempt to block out the illegal sellers. Because eBay and others have allowed them to be their enforcement agency, they are given free reign to pull anyone that they feel is being abusive.
Jim Mackenzie, a suburban Chicagoland tattoo artist and designer, noticed that his listings were being repeatedly pulled by eBay due to complaint, despite the fact that all of the flash and products he was selling were his own, and despite the fact that he clearly listed the copyright information on them within his ad. “I laid it all on the table, right there in the ad for anyone to see, even a scanned copy of the certificate” he said. “But because the ALA doesn’t do too much research before they complain, they didn’t look to see that I’m legitimate. Now my eBay account is closed, pending an official investigation…all because I don’t want to support their organization.”
According to an email from the Artist Legal Alliance, they claim to hunt the major auction sites daily, pulling any and all tattoo related products, including flash (samples), ebooks, and CD-ROMs, and even collections of drawings that they feel might be used in the tattoo industry. According to Mackenzie, who has received a number of emails about his expired listings from suspicious sources, they are also trying to get him to sell copies of his work off of eBay for investigation. “They’re being sneaky, and downright obnoxious if you ask me,” he said. “I’m sure that many people want to have their work protected, but you have to wonder how much damage this is going to do the tattoo industry if a guy can’t even sell things he’s produced himself.”
According to Mackenzie, the majority of tattoo artists have created their own flash albums and CD-ROMs full of their own drawings and copyrighted material, and the sales of these products become a necessary part of keeping their shops open. As a local tattoo artist in a small town, Mackenzie’s shop doesn’t attract all that many customers, and doesn’t see the need for this kind of system.
In fact, the vast majority of tattoo artists are not members of the Artist Legal Alliance, nor do they want to be. The Artist Legal Alliance has only 150 members worldwide. “It’s not like they have even a small percentage of the tattoo artists out there,” Mackenzie stated. “For them to command this kind of power is just wrong.”
It’s not only tattoo artists who are being hurt by these rules. Aspiring artists who post copies of their work on many art forums are having their accounts suspended, receiving threatening letters in the mail. Many believe that the ALA is simply doing this as a bid to gain more memberships. “Every time they pull something, the person who posted it gets an email or a letter offering them to join the ALA, at a cost, of course,” said Anna Wesley, an artist who has had her work pulled from sites many times. “I don’t want to join a tattoo art organization, especially since my field is comic art. I’m just trying to get some of my work out there to be appreciated.”
It seems that the only way to avoid their attacks is to send the Artist Legal Alliance a copy of your product to get it approved, or to transfer all rights and copyrights over to them for “protection.” Mackenzie, who submitted his product for this official review two months ago, has yet to hear a reply. Because his account on eBay has been canceled, he has ruled out selling his flash online. In the mean time, he is planning on closing down his shop unless he can find another way to make money off of his artwork.