Sunday, August 23, 2009

Original Art Stories: Brian Kong's Stolen Images

I know I shouldn't be, but I'm always amazed at the levels, or depths really, that some people sink to in order to make a few bucks. What you're about to see is a case of an artist who is both a thief and also utterly ignorant about it.

Check out this baseball card. It's an original sketch card as drawn by artist Brian Kong. For those who might not know Brian or his work, here's the quick biography as displayed on the site of his dealer, Comic Art House: "Brian has worked on comics, trading cards & in advertising for the past 15 years. He has worked for companies such as Marvel, DC, MLB, NBA to name just a few. In the last 3 years, Brian has created over 10,000 original sketch cards (REALLY) for some of the most prolific properties including: MLB, X-MEN, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Heroes : seasons 1& 2, NBA, DEXTER, Marvel Masterpieces 1& 2, Iron Man Movie, Lord of the Rings: Masterpieces 2, Spiderman 3, Star Trek : TOS: seasons 2-3, Marilyn Monroe, Classic Movie Star Posters, Wizard of Oz 1 & 2 , The Complete Avengers,
DC: Legacy, & Frankenstein.

June 2009 will see the release of Brian's 25 card painted insert set for Topps ALLEN & GINTER brand, which features MLB's greatest moments. Being an avid baseball fan, this is one of his "dream " projects." That's a lot of work over the years and that work brings with it a degree of respect within the industry that Brian works in. Sadly that respect isn't always shared amongst those who would consider themselves to be Brian's peers.

This sketch card is currently on eBay, however it's not being sold by Brian, his art rep, nor is it Brian's work. Clearly it's Brian's image though, and this email that Brian has sent over will serve to explain a lot.

"Hey All, I'm in the mist of deadlines but I feel that this is an important subject to post.I got an email from a collector who brought this to my attention," says Brian. "I have already put in a complaint to ebay. It seems that there is a certain ebayer that goes by the name " morgan_cc "....I have occasionally come across some of his sketch card auctions in which he uses the Topps baseball sketch card borders and photographs and claim them to be his original 1/1 art.Well it seems that he has gone a little too far.

"This is wrong on so many levels...I just wanted to bring it to the attention of everyone, so that he does not continue doing this. To me it looks like he copied it on to another stock with very little (if any) artistic rendering...this guy is ruining all the hard work that us artists put in to creating original 1/1 artwork for the collectors & fans, by making these knockoffs."

Now this is where things get really funky. When contacted the 'artist' in question stated that, "Sure, I can make any sketch card I want. I have even spoken with Brian Kong today and he said it is o.k. as long as I show a picture of the back."

That statement, much like his art, is fraudulent. At that point Brian had not spoken to the 'artist', or vice-versa, and Brian has certainly not given anyone permission to copy his artwork and sell it, but there was an email exchange shortly after. After being alerted to the auction Brian contacted the 'artist' and advised that he wasn't happy with the sketch card and pointed out that the image was on an official Topps card, meaning that it carries with it certain copyright protection. The 'artists' reply was, "No one else on ebay seems to have a problem with the sketch cards that I make and sell. I have close to perfect ebay feedback. Sketch cards are just like paintings and no two are a like. My Albert Pujols Sketch Card has darker red and blue colors and I also added 3D drop shadows to the left and to the right of the image. The name on card is in Font: Mistral Size 12. Pujols face was colored with pink and light brown. I could go on and on about what I did to the sketch card differently. I worked about 5 hrs on the project. It will only sell for $20 - no big deal. If you want to talk further about it - I do not mind. Maybe one day Topps will hire me to make sketch cards and then I can stop selling on Ebay!"

Brian then followed it up, "This was brought to my attention by a few other collectors (who did mind, and do have a problem with it enough to email me). My whole point is this was my artwork that you took and are claiming it as your own. I have a problem with that. I took a pencil and drew & colored it from scratch...although the 1/1 is a factor, it is more the fact that it is an original hand drawn sketch card. If you are working for any of these companies they will not allow you to use other people's artwork. Doing a little photoshop work over someone else's work does not make it your own. In the professional world this is looked down upon and especially since you are not crediting the original artist. $20 is not a big deal, it is the are deceiving the public into thinking that you drew the card, you are also violating copyrights (by the way Topps owns the copyright for the artwork, even though I own the physical artwork)."

The 'artist' responded, "If anyone has a problem with the sketch cards that I sell I will refund there money but so far I have had no problems because I do very good artwork. The sketch cards I sell have my own 3d drop shadow style that I created and add to every sketch card I work on. I guess you can say I have my own sketch card style just like everyone else that is selling sketch cards on ebay. I currently do not work for any major baseball card companies. I like to design sketch cards as you can tell by my website and maybe one day I can move up from ebay. I am not violating any copyrights because sketch cards are just like paintings no two are a like. Even the words "Authentic Sketch Card" are to vague and can not be trademarked. I do not see a registered mark after the words "Authentic Sketch Card". If I was Topps I would have used something like "Topps Sketch Card" or "2009 Topps Sketch Card". I am sure in 2010 Topps will use something like that. The back of my sketch cards are glossy white with my signature and dated 2009 signifying its authenticity. I am not deceiving the public because I have my own sketch card style. I guess if you like I will add another photo of the back of the Albert Pujols Sketch Card I am selling. I think that is something extra I can do to show the differences between my sketch cards and Topps. I will add the photo of the back shortly. Hope that is O.K."

What the 'artist' doesn't seem to understand is that the practice of stealing art in such a manner is wrong on many levels. A quick look at his on-line gallery reveals several dozen such sketch cards however I have no idea how many feature images stolen from other artists and how many might be original. The phrase, "my own sketch card style" is probably the funniest thing this 'artist' writes, if only because if he does indeed have his own sketch card style then that style is clearly art theft. Nothing else in his image shows a style other than the artistic style of Brian Kong. He may well believe that he's not violating any copyrights, but the simple fact is if I record a version of She Loves You and claim that it's my own work then the copyright owners will soon shut me down.

There are ways to draw attention to yourself, as an artist, to gain professional work with various companies, however merely copying another artists work and attempting to pass it off as your own isn't one of them. I expect that if this 'artist' presented his cards to Topps in an attempt to get hired he might instead find himself slapped with a cease and desist letter. As it is Brian, along with a number of others, have reported this seller to both eBay and Topps. I await the end result with a certain interest, as his justifications about why he's doing this really won't wash when the lawyers begin to read his emails.

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