Picture of Ishita Banerjee, holding up some of the art pieces that were stolen from her.
Montreal artist tired of online companies stealing her work
Ishita Banerjee just wants it to stop.
by John Mahoney for the Montreal Gazette
Since the beginning of the year, the Montreal artist has been finding copies of her abstract prints for sale on foreign websites, at drastically reduced prices, without her permission.
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“I think it was late January, I started to see these images of my art popping up in different places, but I didn’t sell it to them,” said the Côte-des-Neiges resident, who moved to Montreal with her family 10 years ago from New Delhi.
Banerjee began contacting the companies on whose sites she found her work, and discovered that all roads led to a Chinese company called AliExpress, a subsidiary of Alibaba Group.
“Since then, I’ve been fighting a battle,” Banerjee said. “I tried contacting lawyers, but they said international copyright is difficult to prove. It’s a crazy game. And it’s so prolific now — so many companies are (selling things for) AliExpress.”
Banerjee has found 29 companies selling prints of her work so far. She has contacted eight of them by email, including AliExpress. Sometimes they agree to stop using her images; sometimes they try to convince her to come to a financial agreement so they can keep using them, which she refuses; and sometimes they say they will stop and the next day the works pop up again in some minimally changed form.
“But the images are exactly the same,” Banerjee lamented. “In some instances, the sellers flip it sideways, or add a line, or colour correct. They change maybe one or two things.”
Then the process begins anew.
On Thursday night, Banerjee exchanged messages — which the Montreal Gazette viewed — with a representative from a company called Sure Life Official Store, which sells through AliExpress.
“How about we pay you, to sale (sic) again?” the representative asked.
“No I’m not interested. This is my work and you cannot sell it,” Banerjee replied.
“Ok, we do not sale them,” came the response. “You only sale them in Canada? Or you sale that in your website worldwide, and we produce and send to your customers, ok? You do not need to produce.”
And so on.
Friday morning, the work was up again, with a slightly different colour scheme.
“It’s about more than the money,” Banerjee said. “I had a whole conversation with the guy, and put in on my Instagram story. I was hopping mad. I contact these companies one by one, hoping common sense will prevail, but there are so many doing it.”
Banerjee sells her paintings and prints through her company Soul Curry’s website, soulcurryart.com, and her Etsy site, soulcurry.etsy.com.
Her paintings sell for $400 to $625, and her prints for $40 to $160. But her works are being sold on AliExpress and other sites for as low as $5.
“When somebody buys art for $5 or $10, it does not make any sense to me,” she said. “I lose faith as an artist.
Real art does not cost $5 — even shipping costs more than that.
“I’m a mother, a cancer survivor, I run a small business and I mind my own business,” she said. “I don’t have the energy to fight this. It’s so much negativity, and so draining emotionally.”
Banerjee encourages people buying art from third-party websites to make sure the company has a deal with the artist. Look for a link to the artist’s page on the website, and not just one but several works by the same artist, often with their signature on them.
“Until people become aware, as responsible buyers, (this will continue),” she said. “These guys are really taking advantage. And it’s not even plagiarism. This is straight-up theft.”