Artist's work stolen for stamps

Images from Anouk Bikkers' Endangered Memory Game were taken from her website and put on the contraband collector's pieces

If you go to Anouk Bikkers’ website you’ll notice something that wasn’t there a few months ago: many of the images have a copyright statement imbedded across them.

The south Riverdale resident and artist — whose new eco game, the Endangered Memory Game, is selling like hotcakes in Danforth Avenue stores like Grassroots, 100-Mile Child and Treasure Island Toys — discovered a month before Christmas that many of the original images from the game and related puzzles appear on stamps that may have been made halfway across the world.

According to Bikkers, the bizarre tale started back in November, when a woman from Australia telephoned her telling her that she had some stamps with her wildlife images on them and that she would like signed by her, the artist.

When the package from the woman arrived by mail three weeks later, Bikkers confirmed that the stamps indeed bore her images.

“I was completely shocked,” Bikkers says, recalling that day.

“I was blown away.”

The package consisted of four sheets of perforated stamps, with dates ranging on them from 2009-2010, numbers on them that could be prices, and descriptions of the image on the stamp, along with a possible reference to a country of origin. All of the images belong to Bikkers and appear on her website.

Though Bikkers says she spoke with the woman only once, she’s kept a trail of emails dating from Nov. 24. Bikkers initially promised to send the stamps back signed, but also asked the woman where she bought them. The woman wrote that they were purchased for a costly fee from a trusted online source, but that she did not know the seller.

When Bikkers wrote back that the images were stolen from her website and copyright-protected, the woman accused her of going back on her word and refused to provide further information until the stamps were returned to her.

“I’m angry,” Bikkers says. “I guess I feel like a bit of innocence has been lost.”

Bikkers suspects the stamps are “perforated labels” — not government-issued stamps but illegal ones that are so pretty they dupe inexperienced collectors into buying them.

“The fact that someone else is profiting off images that took me hours and hours to produce is pretty unforgivable,” she says.

Since the incident she’s been going through the time-consuming process of imbedding close to 100 images on her website with copyright notices. She’s also created Google searches for her name and receives daily email notifications if the search engine finds anything related to her.

She says she wants to make people aware of the copyright problem. The Internet, she says, is a wild west where you run the risk of having your work stolen.

“It’s unfortunate in Canada that we don’t have the legal backup with this sort of thing.”

Though she admits she hasn’t contacted any intellectual property or copyright offices in Canada, Bikkers did consult with family friend, Ron Delanghe, a lawyer with Lerners LLP in London, Ontario.

Delanghe says he saw digital copies of the stamps and is familiar with Bikkers’ artwork.

“It could be considered a theft of her work,” Delanghe says.

“She’s provided no consent.”

Delanghe says it would be hard to look for a legal remedy if you can’t find the geographic area in which the stamps were produced, or the person who created them.

“Even if you did,” he asks, “What jurisdiction would you have to claim damages?”

Meanwhile an Australian stamp expert Bikkers contacted was able to tell her that the two of the four sheets with “Northern Territories Local Post” printed on them refer to a region in Australia. The other two sheets may represent Russia, Bikkers says. But even then, that doesn’t mean the stamps were produced there.

Bikkers still has the stamps sent to her by the woman, and she’s sensible to the fact that not sending them back would constitute a theft of sorts, too.

“I’m not here to steal,” she says. “I may eventually just send them back to her” — unsigned, she adds.

Others times, she says she feels differently. If the woman knows where she bought them, she can simply go and buy them again from the source that she has refused to divulge to her, she says.

“I’m on the fence right now.”

About this article:

By: Kelly Gadzala
Posted: Feb 14 2011 12:34 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto