Published Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 6:00 a.m. PST
A gift shop owner in the Tsawwassen Quay ferry terminal is working out a financial settlement with a local artist after she learned unauthorized copies of her work were sold in his store.
Hilary Morris, who owns a studio on Granville Island, is well-known for her unique pictures of iconic Vancouver locations. She sketches with a black technical pen and then applies opaque watercolour on top.
Morris was incensed when a friend alerted her to a small shop in the Tsawwassen Quay Market, Unique by Hand, that was selling counterfeit copies of her artwork.
"It was like somebody stealing something from me, something very precious from me,” she told CTV’s Steele on Your Side. “They’re like my children.”
The art being sold in the market is almost identical to her original creations. In each case, only Morris’ signature and the odd detail are removed.
"It made me almost nauseous because I looked at it and I could see very much that it was a direct rip-off of my stuff,” she said.
A visit to the store “Unique by Hand” revealed the counterfeit art, sold in the form of coasters and art prints, was on plain display at the front of the store.
The store clerk said the coasters are made by a local Vancouver artist, but he didn’t know the name. He did say they were very popular with tourists, and the store sells a lot of the artwork.
The back of the coasters purchased by Steele on Your Side reads “Made in China.”
When Morris emailed the owner of the store, Max Rensh, threatening legal action he replied: "Reproductions of art work is (sic) not an infringement of Canadian Copyright Act."
But his assertion isn’t true, says Martha Rans, a Vancouver copyright lawyer who works for Artists' Legal Outreach. Rans said the art being sold at Tsawwassen Quay does violate copyright law.
"It’s not about the money. It’s about the integrity and the reputation of the artist,” Rans said.
Morris calls the unauthorized artwork offensive.
"For me, if somebody rips it off, takes it away and reproduces it really, really badly -- that's hugely insulting to me,” she said.
The owner of the store, Max Rensh, told CTV News he misinterpreted the copyright law and has now pulled all the counterfeit art from his Tsawwassen store.
Delta Police also spoke to Rensh, and confirmed that the artwork is no longer being sold. Rensh is now working out an undisclosed financial settlement with the artist.
Martha Rans said the problem of copyright infringement is a huge problem for emerging artists, in part due to social media sites like Facebook.
Rans said many artists are posting their work online without realizing how easy it is for other people to steal it and use it -- or resell it without permission.
She said in many cases an artist’s only recourse is to hire a lawyer to send a cease-and-desist letter, and even that won’t guarantee the counterfeiting will end.
Artists' Legal Outreach (ALO) is a group of volunteer lawyers and law students committed to working with artists and arts organizations. They offer resources, workshops and clinics where artists across BC can meet confidentially with an experienced lawyer. Every artistic discipline is welcome, all for the price of a donation. If you are looking for information about the Non Profit and Charities Legal Outreach service you can find it here.
For more information about Martha Rans and the ALO team, click here.