Susan Schmidt: What can you do if your artwork is used without your permission?

On the Beach © Susan Schmidt 2014
<a href=""><em>On the Beach</em> © Susan Schmidt 2014 </a>

Susan Schmidt is a Queensland-based fine-arts painter, graphic designer and award-winning illustrator. Her works have featured in numerous exhibitions within Australia and overseas, including the Chelsea International Fine Art Collective in New York in 2012 and Contemporary Istanbul in 2014. Susan approached Arts Law in 2014 after she saw one of her artworks reproduced on a book cover without her permission. Susan had created the artwork in question as a commission over twenty years previously and was very surprised to see it on a book cover in her local library.

Susan explained to Arts Law that she literally stumbled upon the unauthorised use of her work. “It was actually a book that fell off the shelf at my feet. The work wasn’t fresh in my memory or anything, and I was sort of like: er… what’s this?” Susan said she felt “a mixture of shock and disbelief” upon realising that this was one of her works.

Even so, Susan did not immediately know what she could do about the unauthorised use: the book had first been published many years ago, she no longer had any of her invoices or other documentation concerning the original commissioning of the artwork and she did not know who to contact for advice. Susan said that she thought it wasn’t right that some other party had used her work without her permission, and that this feeling irked her for some years, but it was not until she spoke to a friend in the publishing industry that she finally realised she might be able do something about it.

“[I had] a friend who had a book publishing business, so I started off by asking her… she actually told me to get in touch with the Australian Publishers Association, that was my starting point and they actually suggested Arts Law.”

Susan received initial advice from Arts Law on the unauthorised use of her work and drafted a letter of demand to send to the publisher of the book. Susan then used Arts Law’s Document Review Service to review her letter before sending it off. Susan and the publisher corresponded and with some further assistance from Arts Law, Susan was able to come to an agreement with the publisher for payment of a retrospective licence fee for use of the image.

Susan was pleased with this outcome, especially as she had never received legal assistance before this. “I think everybody has trepidation about [their first] legal experience” Susan explained. “Where’s it going to go? How much is it going to cost? I don’t think it’s something anybody wants to venture into.” Yet Susan also explained that she was really happy with the assistance she received from Arts Law. She thought that everyone at Arts Law was very helpful and as a result of their clear and helpful instructions she was able to negotiate with the publisher confident about her rights and what a fair response to her grievances would be.

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