Interview in “Artistic License”
Maria Papaefstathiou talking art, infringement and copyright.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
A: I am Maria Papaefstathiou, a graphic designer based in Athens, Greece. I studied graphic design in the early ’90s at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Design of the Technological Educational Institute of Athens.
Only five years ago, I started exploring poster art depicting facets of global issues that I feel passionate about: global poverty, autism, rape, freedom of speech, cancer etc. I also design posters celebrating Greek music and the theatre heritage of Greece. That’s an ongoing project. And I also design posters about reggae music.
My love for the arts led me in 2010 to create a blog, Graphic Art News (graphicart-news.com), as a place to share any interesting artwork, design, or fine art photography worldwide that inspires me and which I think would appeal to other designers. These are projects that I find online. Many times, the artists ask me to feature them.
I am also the co-founder of the International Reggae Poster Contest (reggaepostercontest.com). This is an initiative of Michael Thompson who envisioned this contest as a platform for a catalyst idea – a Reggae Hall of Fame Museum erected in Kingston, Jamaica. This Contest also helps raise awareness for Alpha Boys’ School, which has played a key role in the development of ska and reggae music.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to be an artist? And has the internet become a good or bad aspect to life as an artist?
A: Basically, I work on a computer, using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Sometimes, I sketch my ideas. Other times, I think of them as I’m going along. My works are influenced by cubism and futurism. I am very passionate about these art forms and I keep exploring ways to incorporate these elements in my own work.
Q: What do you dislike about the world of art?
A: I’ve loved to draw ever since I was a child. I remember drawing on rocks and then covering them with transparent nail polish to preserve my work. I am happy to still have one of those drawings. The nail polish did a great job!
When I discovered that there was a profession named “graphic design,” I decided that this was what I wanted to do for my career. So here I am today…
The Internet has played a big role for me.It allows me to escape my daily routine of working for someone else. I’ve been able to start doing things for myself as well: my poster art, the blog, the reggae contest etc.
The Internet is also my main tool to feed Graphic Art News. And it inspires me since everything is so easily available, with only few clicks… For example, I can study cubism, and find cubist artists from the past and also current practitioners.
Q: What is the toughest thing about being an artist?
A: I like artists who express themselves honestly, whether the world likes it or not. So, even if I see things I dislike, that’s just my totally subjective response. But, I hate arrogant artists…
Another thing that irritates me very much is how easily our work can be copied. The Internet is a big tool for us but it can also become an even bigger enemy.
Q: What’s your message to the World?
A: Fall in Love with Art!
Love it with all your heart.
Explore art! Then, make it your own.
And never, ever, give up trying…
Never count the hours you are giving to it. It will pay you back one day, in abundance!
Q: What was your first case of a piece of art being infringed upon?
A: My first case was one of Michael Thompson’s artwork, actually. Not mine. We saw it happening twice. Someone was printing a couple of his designs on t-shirts and selling them online.
He took them down immediately when we took legal action. Another infringement was someone else selling a t-shirt on a crowdfunding website. It came down the moment I sent proof that the art was Michael’s.
Q: How did you feel about someone stealing your artwork and making money from your hard work?
A: Angry…Irritated… But staying calm and patient is the best way to deal with it. I think about it and try to come up with a good strategy. I usually send a note informing them of the infringement and asking them to stop. If they don’t cooperate, I consider how much of my time pursuing then is going to consume. Is it really worth it? Or will I spend more money than what I’ll lose from illegal sales of my artwork? So it’s constant ambivalence about the right response…
Q: Do you feel it’s a necessary part of the market, to allow for free advertising?
A: I wouldn’t say necessary. But I believe the Internet is the tool of our century with the constant threat of infringing, unfortunately. e worst thing is the immorality of it all. It is not a question of IF someone is making money out of it or not. e artworks from the International Reggae Poster Contest have been stolen and used everywhere. They’ve been sold as posters and also used to promote reggae events. It frustrates me! And it frustrates the designers as well. But what can one do really? And how many infringers can you spend time chasing? Personally, I send messages to them, letting them know that we know. And we hope they will behave themselves. And most of them do. Because most of them don’t even realise what they are doing! They think since it’s on the Internet, it’s for public use.
Q: What would you say to the infringers if you had the chance?
A: What I am telling them already. To stop doing it! To honour the artist and take down the stolen work from their website. What I would like to see, though, is much more public education about intellectual property. For instance, how do we know we can’t smoke in a specific area? Someone told us not to. On radio and television, in newspapers and with signs in public….There has to be a way to educate the world about not stealing intellectual property. Public education is the right tool.
Q: How do you think this situation could be resolved?
A: One is what I’ve just said: public education. Then, artists can start a whole campaign. “Stop stealing”! Right? You have already designed a poster to protect your designs! Michael Thompson has made a whole series.
Why not other artists? Why not start building a platform with works about infringement and other legal issues? The messages should be clear and straightforward so everyone can understand why it’s a crime to steal other people’s works. There should be documents on the platform ready to be downloaded for every victim to use to save their artworks. Besides, how many of us can a afford the lawyers? A collective platform is a great start…
Q: What is your view on copyright?
A: I agree with it. Artworks, designs, music, patents, lyrics…Everything must be copyrighted. For our own protection! It’s our seal, I believe.
Q: Have you ever innocently, or without knowledge of copyrighted laws used other’s material for your own work?
A: No. I mostly derive images that I want to use from stock photo galleries. But I have been asked to use other people’s work, photographs, actually, in my projects and, of course, I decline. I mean, if I’ll do it, then what worth do my own words have?
Q: How do you protect your own work against copyright theft?
A: I am not protecting my work as efficiently as I would like to. e best way is to have a lawyer copyright every single piece. But that’s not an easy thing to do… Not for me at least. So I am using only Creative Commons.
Q: Do you think companies on the web do enough to protect artist’s work?
A: No…I don’t think they do. But, again, I don’t know what more they can do than to state that all artworks are copyrighted by the artists. I am against the use of watermark over the artwork. It detracts from the beauty of the art, I believe.
Q: What do you think about Creative Commons and Public Domain?
A: I think they are trying to do a good job. But I have been a victim there too. Not personally, again, but one of our poster contributions was submitted to the Creative Commons by an imposter! Not by the artist himself! And I am 100% sure of who the owner of the artwork is…If I remember well, I wrote to Creative Commons about it, but I got no response. is I find really disturbing. All the same, it’s good to have the Creative Commons copyright symbols on your website. It’s like a ‘beware of the dog’ sign outside your yard.
Q: What do you think of artists that abuse this feature?
A: Well, let’s simply say they are NOT artists.