My Art Copied in Las Vegas Without My Permission: Should I Be Upset? What Was the Outcome?

Wine Affair ©Sandi Whetzel
Wino Wine Bottle
Imagine my surprise when I saw that a Las Vegas business intended to use an obvious imitation of my painting, Wine Affair, (above left) for one of their events.  For a nominal fee the restaurant and painting studio provides painting materials to guests who are guided through a re-creation of the featured painting of the evening.  Participants paint, socialize and dine on gourmet foods and partake of alcoholic beverages offered for purchase. What a novel concept for introducing people to a "painting experience" while capitalizing on the sale of food and beverages during the event!  It sounds like a lot of fun.  Above right, is the featured painting they intended to be re-created at the painting event April 17th, 2013.  Is it inspired by my painting?  Is it a copy of my painting?  I'd be interested in what you think.

I think there are too many obvious similarities in the two paintings to leave any doubt this version was copied from my painting.  First, I know my painting is an original.   I created it out of my head from scratch in 2010.  I had not seen anything like it anywhere before.  The goblet is from my cupboard, but I painted it abstractly.  I worked long and hard on several sketches of the goblet before settling on its shapely placement.
The treatment, shapes and placement of the goblet, bottle and moon are nearly identical.  The swirls in and around the moon and around the bottle are another giveaway.  The colors and their placement in the bottle closely resemble those in my wine bottle.  The painter chose to use a shorter canvas format and alter the angles of the goblet slightly in an effort to change their version and avoid copyright infringement.  However, as complicated as it is to determine copyright infringement, one guideline is:

The test of an infringement is whether an ordinary person would determine that one work is copied from the other; the copying need not be exact.

My first gut reaction when I saw this painting was to smile and feel good that somebody was so inspired by my Wine Affair  painting that they wished to create their version of it for use in their business.  The familiar quote, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" came to mind.  I had to laugh at the mere prospect  that my work might be famous enough to be copied!  If I had thought this imitation would reduce my ability to profit from reproductions of my painting, I would have been furious and demanded recourse.  However, I did not feel it would be a threat to the sale of my original or reproductions of it. 

Wino Wine Bottle is a playful piece.  The sad thing about this imitation is that several sacrifices in the re-design of the painting were made, either in an attempt to differentiate it from my painting, or maybe the artist just didn't know about more aesthetically pleasing elements of design.  Even sadder is that they would have been encouraging their class participants to repeat those design flaws by copying the mistakes.  

Crowding the bottle and the moon too closely to the top of the canvas and squeezing the bottom of the goblet and bottle too close to the bottom of the canvas makes the composition look awkward and amateurish.   The weight of the goblet and bottle appear to be falling through the bottom of the canvas.

Allowing the goblet to share its edge with the curving silhouette of the bottle creates another awkward "crowded" sensation. One of the objects should be placed behind the other, or leaving some space between them would avoid the awkward look.  I also feel that the color of the wine next to the harsh white of the goblet appears garish.

If I were a vindictive person, I might have seen an opportunity to go after this business for their copyright infringement and possibly be awarded a large sum of money.  In this situation, I don't feel it would have been worth the frustration.  What do you think? You can either email me your thoughts from the link at the right sidebar, or you can use the comments section below this post.

EPILOGUE:  Right after I first posted this blog I started thinking about the repercussions of having copied  versions of my painting floating around the country and the internet if the business had used it.  If people saw the copy and then saw my Wine Affair original, might someone question whether I had copied Wino Wine Bottle instead of it being the opposite situation?  And was it fair for participants not to know they were copying copyrighted art?  I also wondered how many other artists' work might be exploited if I kept silent.   I contacted the restaurant and studio to inform them of their copyright infringement.  I am happy to report, they have ceased advertising Wino Wine Bottle as the featured painting and will not use it for their event. 

By the way, the original of Wine Affair  and reproductions of it and other of my paintings are available at my new print-on-demand website .   sensual wine art art


Colleen Hanks said...

I love your insight. I am thinking however, that the clever business should be invited to either purchase or lease the original work for display in their place of business. They should show you the respect of acknowledgement. Perhaps your friendly offer would suggest copyright infringement could be addressed in a monetary fashion.

Sandi Whetzel said...

Thanks for your comment, Colleen. It would be a nice gesture on their part to purchase the original and display it to acknowledge my authorship,(but not to allow for more accurate copying of the painting...ahem! That would be fostering unquestionable copyright infringement. I'm sure that's not what you meant.) I am amused that they felt the desire to copy the idea--ideas can't be copyrighted--but their version might be enough of an imitation to be considered copyright infringement. I suppose I could contact Design and Wine and ask them not to use the imitation. Maybe I should do that to discourage this kind of thing. I was pretty amazed at this discovery and I needed a good subject to blog about. I'm hoping to get reactions to this post. Thanks for taking the time to comment here.

Ella Bella Floral said...

I like yours so much better!

Sandi Whetzel said...

Thanks, Ella Bella Flora!