An Expose on Art Theft


Maia Matsushita, Writer

Stealing the Mona Lisa would be hard. There is an immense personel of security protecting the painting, not to mention the crowds that would act as witnesses as they not only take pictures of the painting but of the thief as well, creating a target on their back. Physical barriers — a guard rail and a glass case surrounding the painting — also make it nearly impossible to steal such a phenomenal piece of art. 


Compared to this hardship, online artists are constantly at risk of getting their art stolen. With the presence of technology and the ability to hide behind an account name, it is much harder to trace down the culprit of online art theft, as well as to take legal action against them.


Online art theft comes in many forms; a very prominent yet subtle way the theft can occur is through accounts that repost content on various social media platforms. Instagram for example, has a high volume of accounts that repost other users’ works and compile them under one account, such as “satisfying videos”. These accounts use others’ content to make their account popular, which also leads to advertisers and revenue for those taking content. While some accounts do credit the original artist, it is unjust that individuals are making money off of someone else’s content. Some other accounts do worse and steal artists’ work, posing it as their own, a crime that is improbable with physical art. 


The culture that the Internet has created, namely, a place where virality is everything, also contributes to the frequent art theft online. TikTok, an app that allows users post videos for up to a minute, has created many viral dances and trends since its introduction as a social media app. A recent trend, the Renegade dance, was first made by a fourteen year old in Atlanta named Jalaiah Harmon, but she was never given credit as it spread like fire through the platform. The dance was even accredited to a different TikTok star, Charli D’Amelio, as she was the one who popularized it on the app. 


Especially with a dance, it becomes easy to lose track of the original creator as many people record themselves doing the moves and post the video without giving much thought about where the dance originated from. As this process multiplies throughout the platform, spreading word of the original creator becomes harder unless divine intervention occurs; in Jalaiah’s case, she was mentioned by K-Camp, the creator of the background track to the Renegade dance. 


Another instance with art theft involved a celebrity, Aaron Carter, who started to sell new merchandise under his name. However, the original artist, Jonas Jodicke, soon noticed that Carter had taken his art piece and assumed it as his own. When Jodicke asked Carter to take the merchandise down, the latter replied in an aggressive manner, telling the artist that he should be thankful that his art was being featured. 


The Internet has given way to many interactions that resemble this situation, art theft or not. The former engagements people used to have with each other now exist on a minimal level, which brings out people’s true character, like Aaron Carter and his petty response to the artist whose work he stole. While the Internet has created a forum for artists to experiment with their abilities and have a better chance of getting recognized, it has also caused outsiders to distance themselves from the story and people behind the art pieces; to these outsiders, they are simply presented as images online. 


However, there is still light at the end of the tunnel. With the presence of online databases, artists can constantly check if their work has been stolen and have a possibility of tracking down the culprit by doing reverse image searches. People familiar with an artist’s work also help in keeping plagiarism in check, so an artist arguably has a larger support system than ever before. There is also a heightened general awareness of art theft online, and there are programs put in place, such as authentication processes, that can prevent a piece of artwork from being resold if stolen. 


It is unreasonable to say that there are any digital forms of art that are protected like the Mona Lisa; but as online netizens ourselves, we should help protect artists’ rights and prevent art theft by not interacting with accounts that repost art and report uncredited, reposted artwork.