Fraudulent reproduction of paintings

If you’ve ever wondered why it’s so important to protect a painter’s intellectual creativity and copyright, here is the classic example…

This painting appeared for sale as a canvas wall art print in the homewares section of New Zealand e-commerce platform Fishpond not so long ago. Great to see Douglas MacDiarmid’s stunning Portrait of Constance Sochachewsky 1948, being shared with a wider audience, you might say. The print was affordable and looked inviting. But it’s not that simple – no one asked the artist, or the owner of the painting, for permission when they ripped off someone else’s work for their own financial gain!

With so many paintings out there in the ether, who was going to notice an illegal reproduction of a 70-year-old work by an artist so old he must be dead, anyway? That’s how the thinking goes, and why we must always be on our guard – especially for artists no longer able to fend for themselves.

Douglas is obviously a very small target in the thriving global art fraud market, but that’s no reason to be any less vigilant or proactive – either as an owner, copyright holder or prospective art buyer. It’s no different to pirating music, plagiarising words or ideas; simply nothing less than stealing.

There have been a few instances of fake MacDiarmid paintings being offered on overseas art websites recently, but this is the first time we have come across a blatant case of copying. In this instance, a family member happened upon BoboWorld’s offering, and it very quickly became ‘product unavailable’ when inquiries about copyright licensing were made. Thankfully, Fishpond is a reputable company that prides itself on good business practice and takes a dim view of art fraud.

So does the owner of Portrait of Constance, none other than the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, in Wellington. When told of this breach, they responded: “It’s incredibly frustrating as we put a lot of energy into making it easy for those wishing to license artworks to do so. We actively encourage retailers to contact us so they can develop the best quality product but only with the consent of, and often payment of licensing fees, to the copyright holder. This is definitely a copyright infringement as this person did not contact us.”

Copyright, incidentally, doesn’t die with an artist (or music composer, author etc) but legally continues to safeguard the integrity of their work for up to 70 years after their deaths – depending on the country in which the work resides.

For the record, here’s what to do if a painting you made, or own, is illegally reproduced:

  • Contact both the supplier and the retail outlet to tell them a breach has been detected. Ask who provided their copyright licence. Request that the item be removed from sale.
  • Go online and leave a scathing review of the product. Alerting prospective buyers to copyright infringements is the best way to limit sales and call shonky suppliers out.
  • Let your friends and followers know your work has been ripped-off, and ask them to be on the lookout for you.

It’s good to have eyes and ears everywhere. And critical to closely examine the origin and authenticity of anything you are tempted to buy online. If you do come across a MacDiarmid painting that appears suspicious, please let the MacDiarmid Arts Trust know on .

Portrait of Constance Sochachewsky, wife of Maurice Sochachewsky, London 1948. Oil on softboard, 308 x 247 mm. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa collection, Wellington, New Zealand.

To read more about Douglas MacDiarmid’s fascinating journey through life Buy your copy of Colours of a Life – the life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid by Anna Cahill (2018)

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Life and Times of Douglas MacDiarmid biography
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