Flossy P finds online marketplace a double-edged sword for vulnerable artists' copyright
PHOTO: Sarah Lyttle found an online business was pirating and profiting from her designs. (ABC News: Meghna Bali)
When New South Wales artist Flossy P, aka Sarah Lyttle, learned her popular Giant Wombat designs were being ripped off by a US-based online company, she was livid.
"I actually wasn't that surprised, sadly," Lyttle said.
Not only were her designs being printed in poor quality on art prints and t-shirts, they were being sold at higher US prices and being advertised using promotional photographs from the Flossy P Facebook page.
Resisting the urge to name and shame, the Coffs Harbour local did some quick googling, talked to a lawyer friend and reached out to the alleged thief.
Legal demands were made, reports were lodged and the whole matter was resolved within days.
Alerting other artists
Now Lyttle wants to share her experience with other potentially vulnerable artists.
INFOGRAPHIC: A Facebook Messenger exchange resulted in the online seller taking down the wombat designs. (Supplied: Sarah Lyttle)
"People think carrying on with legal proceedings is really expensive [and] that's exactly what I feel, but I found ways around it," she said.
When Lyttle took to Instagram to air her grievances, a loyal follower who happened to be an intellectual property lawyer, reached out.
"The advice I got was to serve a cease and desist letter … and then report the products and the shops they were selling their products on," she said.
While the wombat designs were taken down quickly, Lyttle could not find out the identity of the alleged thief beyond their website.
"Because they reacted and responded in the way I wanted them to, I didn't take it any further," she explained.
"But that's a problem — finding out who these nameless people are online can be a mission."
Beyond having intellectual property lawyers as followers, there are a few things you can do if you suspect your art has been stolen.
Virginia Morrison, a senior lawyer at the Copyright Agency, said creators could get free advice from the Australian Copyright Council and the Arts Law Centre of Australia.
She stressed there could be legal consequences to sending a cease and desist letter.
On her Flossy P Facebook page, Lyttle urged her followers to screenshot and document everything to back up any future legal claims.
"I feel so empowered now I have time-stamped records of everything that went down, even though the other person tried to erase them, including their own admission of guilt," she posted.
"The internet is a strange and wonderful place, a place where people can easily take someone's work and claim it as their own, but it is also a place where there are eyes everywhere."
Better access to justice
Ms Morrison said Australia's copyright laws were in good shape, but there was room for improvement, especially when it came to access and dealing with different jurisdictions.
"It's tricky with the internet because you're dealing across borders and it can be hard to make overseas parties comply with Australian law," she said.
While Australian artists have strong rights provided in the legislation, it is not always easy to enforce them in practice.
"Particularly individual artists who don't have a massive amount of money to take people to court," Ms Morrison said.
There is also the issue of how much money a litigant could potentially recover when they need to prove how much they have lost as a result of the copyright infringement.
"There's no cap and more importantly, there's no floor," Ms Morrison said.
"There's been the odd case where a court has said you can get one dollar in damages."