Waxing the Golden Rule – Skinny Artist

Waxing the Golden Rule

Waxing the Golden Rule

by: Kara Brook

The road to hell & litigation is often paved with good intentions

I’m an encaustic painter who enjoys sharing what I have learned as I develop my own skills. I’ve found there’s a lot of information on the web, specifically video trailers often linked to a video or online class that sometimes carries a bigger price tag than it’s worth.

A few months back, I traveled the corners of the web and found a fairly good forty-five minute demonstration on a particular encaustic technique that would be interesting for my community. The material had been previously recorded at a conference and then posted on Vimeo by the local PBS station.  I watched it at least a few times and decided to write an article on my website to further explain aspects of the demonstration that weren’t very clear.

I don’t get paid for any of this. There are no revenue streams associated with my website. I do this from my heart because I love what I’m doing and would love to build a community of fellow artists who are as passionate as I am about sharing their discoveries on encaustic technique.

One evening, a few days after the article published, I received an email from an attorney. The artist featured in the video went to a lawyer and had him write me a cease-and-desist letter that stated: “I was using an unauthorized video and that the use of this tape [content] has caused his client potential loss of income and other damages made more grievous by comments and pictures of his training techniques and work.” He then gave me 24 hours to remove it from my site.

So what did I learn from this?

Do not post anything that is the creative property of another artist without their permission.  Otherwise unassuming artists (like me) will unknowingly link to it and hold it in high regard.

Do unto others. . .

The web is specifically designed to make it as easy as possible to share online content whether it’s yours or someone else’s.  People love to share images, stories, articles, and tutorial videos – sharing is the lifeblood of the online world.

If you are planning on sharing other people’s content online, don’t simply assume that it’s okay.  Everyone is different and not everyone wants their content to go “viral”.

  • Make it a point to always look for a copyright notice or a Creative Commons License on the website so you’ll know exactly what the author or creator will allow you to do with their content.
  • Think about if you would be harming or helping their online reputation and/or financial interests (i.e. if it was the other way around, would you want them to do the same thing to you?)
  • Do they specifically ask you to share their content?  If they don’t have any type of legal notice, do they have a Twitter, Facebook, or “Pin It” button installed on their site?  Usually (but not always) this means that they would like you to share their content on these particular social networks.
  • When in doubt don’t do it, because as I’ve discovered, it’s just not worth it.  Fortunately, there are plenty of other artists and creators out there online who would love to have you share their content and receive the free publicity.

….as you would have them do unto you.

At the same time, if you are an artist, writer, photographer, or content creator — it is your responsibility to make it clear on your website whether or not you want other people to share your content online.

  • Be sure that you tell your visitors exactly what they are allowed and not allowed to do with your content.  Use a plainly worded notice for the best effect.  Don’t just slap a copyright notice in the footer of your website and assume that everyone will understand and obey. Yes you may be legally protected, but don’t be surprised when people don’t fully understand what “All Rights Reserved” actually means.
  • Think about adding a Creative Commons License to your website to spell out what they are allowed to do and not do with your content.  Even if you use a Creative Commons License, however, it is still a good idea to explain what exactly it allows them to do in plain English.

If you’re an artist and you occasionally teach at conferences or schools:

  • Ask questions. If a public television channel is shooting you live while you’re demonstrating an art technique, open up communication with them and ask how the video will be used. If you don’t want the video to be made public, make that clear. Get it in writing.
  •  Get whatever agreements with the conditions of your session signed by the managers of the conference or school where you may or may not be expecting to be filmed.
  •  Notify your audience to refrain from using any video equipment while you are speaking.
  •  Build bridges don’t burn them.

If your video ends up on the web even after you’ve done all this, contact the person who published the link or embedded video and ask them to please remove the video because it’s your property and because you’re asking them nicely to remove it. The cardinal rule in life is to treat others as you want to be treated.

If the other party is really causing you damage and financial loss after you make an honest effort to communicate then indeed, after you try to work things out by being a good communicator if there are real issues, then indeed go to your lawyer and send a letter, but realize that once you send that letter you can’t undo it, and these situations often end up costing more of your soul and your pocketbook than you could imagine.

The moral of the story here is simply to follow the “Golden Rule”.  Fellow artists, gather ‘round so we can sing “Kumbaya”. We are a brotherhood and sometimes all we have is each other. If we can’t work things out among ourselves, then we’re no better than the rest of the world, and the rest of the world is certainly not nearly as interesting and enjoyable as we are. We have a responsibility to communicate with one another like civil and even loving adults.

What do you think?

How often do you share images, articles, videos, or content online even when you’re not sure if you are legally allowed?  Does it make a difference whether that content was created by a company or an individual?

Do you have a clearly written notice on your website explaining what exactly your visitors are allowed and not allowed to do with your content?

When do you feel that it’s okay to share someone else’s content on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest?

 Image courtesy of Mae Chevrette

About the Author

Kara Brook is an artist practicing encaustic painting and beekeeping. Her website features her artwork and her blog.

What am I missing here? The information was posted by the “local PBS” station for public consumption, if the artist did not want this posted then he should never have had PBS record it. It is craziness that the lawyer went after you.

    Yup. I thought it was pretty nuts too. That’s why I wrote about this. Thanks for the feedback Jolie!


I think it’s a shame!!!

Kara- great article
As an artist and instructor I have many photographic images and video clips from my instructional DVDs “out there”… That’s the point, they are floating around- I post many of them myself, and others are posted by artists with an interest in what I am doing.
My websites/videos do hold my copywrite, and “all rights reserved”… and so I am always happy to have a quick email from some one that would like to post/repost an image of my work or one of my video clips- This is a courtesy that will keep all parties happy (giving the artist an opportunity to reply prior to posting/writing about can save you time too).
I love to share information on what I do, and how I do it— I do understand that some folks have a different take on it…
but I truly appreciate when another artist takes the time to look into my work with interest and enthusiasm and want to share it.

    Thanks for all the feedback. Jolie, you read it right. I was shocked when this happened, that’s why I wanted to write about it. Cari, it was your trailer that introduced us and now I’m hooked on learning from you! You are a true leader in “sharing” in this encaustic world, and you “get” this internets thing. ;0)

Thanks Kara for sharing your story with us and also for giving us some strategies to hopefully keep something like this from happening to us. In fact your article motivated me after years of inaction and legal murkiness, to finally get off my slacker tail-feathers and place a Creative Commons License on this particular site [If you’re interested you can check it out in all of its legal mumbo-jumbo glory in the footer below]

I think in the end, you’re right that it’s all about communication. Everyone has their own opinion about what’s okay and what’s not okay to do with their content, so it’s important to spell it out exactly what’s acceptable to you when it comes to sharing your stuff online. Now you’ll still occasionally run into one of these people, like you did, who for whatever reason thought he had an expectation of privacy at a televised public event. It happens, and as you said, you sometimes just have to shake your head in disbelief and move on.

Thanks again Kara for a great post! :)


“Do not post anything that is the creative property of another artist without their permission. Otherwise unassuming artists (like me) will unknowingly link to it and hold it in high regard.”

I too would also have assumed that a vid posted by PBS would be fair to use, but I can see where the cease and desist letter is legitimate. Very curious–Aren’t you doing exactly what you’ve said NOT to do by sharing another artist’s photograph at the top of this page? Did she give you permission to do so? Is everything on Flicker free to use as long as you credit?

    Hi Allison! I think I can answer this for Kara because I was actually the one who chose to use this particular image for the post.

    Mae’s image was released under a Creative Commons Attribution license which gives anyone permission to share, copy, or distribute that particular image as long as the original author is credited.

    To answer your question. Every image posted on Flickr is NOT fair game for people to share online despite what a lot of people seem to think. The image has to specifically have a Creative Commons License attached to it, and every Creative Commons license is not the same. This particular image was released under an attribution license, but there are several different types, which each have their own unique set of permissions and restrictions.

    If you are interested in sharing your creative content online (or someone else’s) I would really encourage you to check out our Creative Commons License video that explains the basics and gives you all of the resources you’ll need to get started. Unfortunately, because of incidents like what Kara recently went through, many websites won’t even consider publishing anyone else’s content (images, articles, etc…) anymore unless they have a Creative Commons License posted.

    As Kara mentions in her article, you want to be clear exactly what you do and do not want people to do online with your creative content. If there is any confusion about what you will or will not allow, or if you force people to contact you each time they want to use your content, you’re probably going to end up missing out on a lot of opportunities.


You didn’t ask Mae’s permission for that photo.

    You’re right Jenna, I didn’t specifically ask Mae’s permission to use that image, but then again that’s the whole point of someone putting a creative commons license on their work in the first place.

    If you go to the original image page, you’ll see that this image has been released under a Creative Commons Attribution License which means that she has already given us permission to share, copy, and distribute this image online as long as we give her credit.

    That’s the beauty of having a Creative Commons license on your website/content because it encourages people to (legally) share your work. Honestly, if this image didn’t already have a CC license on it, I simply would have moved on and found a different image by someone else who did. Sure, I love this particular image, but if it didn’t have a CC license attached to it, I probably wouldn’t have used it. There are simply too many other creators out there who WANT their work to be shared to bother using people’s images where you’re unsure.

    Now if Mae contacts us and tells me that she would rather not have her image associated with this particular website, I would certainly honor her wishes and I would find a different image to use. The way I see it, this is a win-win situation because I get to use Mae’s beautiful image and she gets some free and well-deserved publicity for her work, which is what the online arts community is all about :)

This reads to me like the artist could not cope with his work being critiqued so pulled out the copyright card.

I would have done the same as you (apart from the writing an eloquent and engaging post bit). However, a part of me would have loved to have challenged this.

Thanks for your support, David.

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