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Taylor Swift shared a pirated version of a painting by artist Ally Burguieres on her Instagram feed in 2014 (screenshot by and courtesy Ally Burguieres)

Last year, New Orleans-based artist Ally Burguieres painted a picture of a smiley little fox. It became one of the best-selling designs in her clothing shop, Cocoally. A few months later, Burguieres was surprised to find that pop star Taylor Swift had shared an image that looked exactly like the fox painting on her Instagram feed, alongside the handwritten lyrics “They are the hunters / we are the foxes and we run,” with someone else’s name signed to it.

“At first I was glad she’d posted my painting, until I realized it was a pirated copy, which a fan of both my work and Taylor Swift’s had made and posted as fan art on social media,” Burguieres tells Hyperallergic. Thus began a long saga in which Burguieres, who teaches Media Arts at Tulane University, learned how hard it can be for artists to get properly credited and compensated for their designs in the digital age.

“During and after this whole ordeal, Swift was going on about artists’ rights, how artists should get paid for their work, how art is valuable,” Burguieres says. Though she insists she has no bad blood with Swift, Burguieres was frustrated. “I kept reading these quotes and thinking, ‘I totally agree. Let’s work with each other.’”

Fox Without Crown

Ally Burguieres’s original painting of a fox

After nearly a year of frustrating talks, Swift’s lawyers finally told Burguieres’s lawyers they would pay her a “four-figure licensing fee,” but only if she agreed to donate it to charity. “I’d be happy to donate to charity, but not because Taylor Swift’s team tells me to,” Burguieres says. Last week, Burguieres posted an open letter to Swift on Facebook explaining her frustration and her wish to receive credit for her fox design. It’s since been shared nearly 1,500 times (the full text of the letter is included below).

“I was seen as a threat from the beginning. The lawyers were saying, ‘why don’t you go after the person who pirated your design in the first place?’ But I wasn’t going after anyone. In reality, I didn’t think it needed to be that much of a problem,” Burgueires says. “It’s about artists supporting other artists. I know it’s a sharing culture now, and I have no problem with sharing artwork and having a collaborative culture as long as it’s credited. I know there’s no artist who works in a vacuum — all artists owe something to other artists. I think if someone comes forward and says, ‘this is my design, could you give me credit for it,’ it shouldn’t be that difficult to give credit.”

But the way images are shared on the internet can make their provenance unclear. There are blurry lines between “fan art” and professional art, or between a blatantly pirated design and a visually similar design. It’s often hazy what fair use in each of these cases entails. “I asked my lawyer, ‘Shouldn’t it be cut and dry? Shouldn’t we just be able to look at the law and see what it says about this?’” Burgueires says. “But social media complicates it. It’s new territory. People don’t know what the rules are.” Burgueires says she still wishes she could receive credit for her design, but is satisfied with how the situation has brought attention to issues of pirating. She’s decided to stop pursuing the case, and is not suing Swift, as some media outlets have incorrectly reported.

Fox Princess With Copyright

Ally Burguieres, “Fox Princess” (2014)

Because Taylor Swift is Taylor Swift, the case of the pirated fox painting turned high-profile; it’s already given Burgueires more than 15 minutes of internet fame, and may ultimately help her business (though perhaps not as much as it would have if she were receiving royalties of some kind). But most cases of this nature, such as one involving Nebraska-based design pirate/tchotchke retailer Cody Foster and Urban Outfitters, don’t attract the same level of attention in the media. In those cases, independent artists simply get shafted by lawyered-up corporations without the upside of being portrayed as underdog champions.

Burguieres’s letter to Swift reads in full:

Dear Taylor Swift:

I am a professional artist. With years of work and support from customers, friends, and family, I have built a business around my designs and am (hopefully) adding my own small form of beauty to the world. I now have three shops in New Orleans and gratefully rely on people who demonstrate that art they love is worth paying for. I may “only” have 1239 followers on Instagram, but I believe my work has value. I believe there are many others out there like me.

As a professional artist, I was astonished to see you use one of my most popular designs on all your official social media platforms as part of your promotions for 1989. While I wondered why no one had sought permission or offered compensation to do so, I recognized that such endorsement is a once-in-a-lifetime boost for an artist and can skyrocket an artist’s career. Friends congratulated me and customers expressed joy. But congratulations turned to confusion. The design was a copy, and with someone else’s name signed to it.

I was devastated, but I took solace in thinking that someone so outspoken about artists’ rights would willingly fix her mistake. Mistakes are easy to make; I thought if you only KNEW about the error, you would do what is in your power to make it right. I was wrong. My efforts to combat the pirated and unauthorized copy (and your use and distribution of it to millions of people) were noticed, as you removed the post after several days. But the copy had been shared and downloaded countless times, and it seemed neither you nor your team intended on correcting your mistake.

After months of effort, I received an offer from you and your team that mentions no credit to me as the artist of the design, but does include payment of a “four-figure” amount, with the stipulation that I must donate it all. Taylor, as a professional, would you agree to such terms from Apple, or Spotify? My work is my living—it is how I pay bills and support my family and employees. Many of your fans are professional artists, and support themselves and their families with earnings from their intellectual property. Would you really profit from and distribute a copy of their work to millions of people, and then tell them they don’t deserve professional recognition or compensation?

I don’t know what will come of this letter, but for the sake of my own business and on behalf of independent artists like myself, I had to speak up. I have no ill will toward you, and I appreciate the theoretical virtue of your stance as a defender of art and intellectual property. I simply hope to see your actions fall more in line with the values you claim to hold.

Sincerely,

Ally Burguieres

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Carey Dunne

Carey Dunne

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

16 replies on “Artist Shames Taylor Swift Over Pirated Painting, but Decides to Shake It Off”

  1. It’s possible there’s more to the story. Ally didn’t go after the original person who pirated it. The attorneys may neglect to mention about credit but that does not translate into I’m not going to give her credit. With all the news about this mistake she so obviously got the credit and attention she would never had otherwise. They offered some money and it appears she wants to be paid, however the bad is obviously done by the person who pirated the image.

  2. There is no intellectual property to an animal. Drawing styles can’t be copyrighted. Ideas can be. Having a fox smiling some doofy ass grin and looking over its right shoulder wouldn’t trigger anything legally. She doesn’t not own the rights to foxes. Her “fight” is with Taylor Swift who popularized her artwork. Yet, here we are talking about her. Biting… hand…. feed… you… much?

    1. You’re wrong. Images can be copyrighted. What she has copyrighted is not the idea of a fox, it’s this specific image, which was clearly copied–clearly to anyone except a Taylor Swift fan.

      1. Doesn’t matter if it was copied or not. What’s important is, Taylor had nothing to do with the making of it, that fan did, and tried to pass it off as their own, and gave it to Taylor. Taylor had no reason to believe that the plain drawn fox was someone else’s. The moment she found out about it, she took it down.

        Taylor Swift fan’s are defending Taylor from people saying she stole another artists work, where clearly she didn’t. Even Ally the artist knows this, and has settled with the fan the did it. Yet, she was still going after Taylor.

        Also, if you actually seen the fans work, you’ll see it’s a watercolor painting. The eyes are different, the ears are slightly different, along with a few other differences. It’s not a scan, the whole thing was remade by hand, with Ally’s fox as the model.

        1. My argument had nothing to do with who the artist went after. My point was simply that images can be copyrighted–much easier than “ideas” can. Logos, for example, are images. They can be, and are, copyrighted. If I executed an Apple logo–even in watercolor–and put it on my own line of computers, you can bet I’d be hearing from Apple’s attorneys.

    2. Not only was this drawing shamefully scanned and blatently stolen from the artist the crappy words and cowardly illegible signature really demean the sprit of the original. What I would have done in Swift’s position would have just simply privately apologise to the original artist, removed it and offer the artist to post the image with the fox wearing the crown clearly showing the original artists signature without commenting. That way the artist and her fox would be seen and rightfully credited and Swift would be seen to be appreciating the feelings of the artist and showing her integrity of judgment. Once money involved the whole sorry story falls into the gutter.
      At the end if the day, the artist has had attention drawn to her work and she should be grateful. When you get your work copied by others its a sickening feeling but you gotta trump it with producing more great original work and move on.

      1. The artwork wasn’t scanned….. the fan clearly recreated the image and added lyrics…

        You proposed an interesting way for Swift to give credit…but I’m not sure what context she could do that without creating even more trouble.

        The interesting thing is that Alley actually appears to have been inspired by another artist’s work. The technique is clearly different, and the image has been altered enough to avoid legal issues…..http://makeagif.com/i/bpPGHZ (please note, I didn’t make the gif…just reposted the link)
        It brings a whole new dimension to ‘ give me credit!!!….oh, wait…. nah, I’m ok, really!!’

        1. Definitely scanned/ copied and pasted whatever, the scratchy pen lines are absolutely identical. I agree Swift couldn’t get involved further. No crime being inspired by another artist’s work. How many versions of father Christmas are we been seeing inspired by some Victorian artist’s illustration.But this cheap copying and pasting malarkey and adding a few words round it is just shoddy art work.

          When people have copied my photographic ideas, and done their own versions I gotta swallow hard and get over it. I learnt a lot from Own-it.org they give great advice about this.
          Peace and goodwill…u

          1. How can you not see the difference? I will help you;
            the curve of the back, the nose, the eye, the front left leg, the back left foot, the scruff of white fur on the neck, the right ear, the top of the head, and the tail on the top, bottom and the tip are all different.. not to mention where the orange part and black line in the tail, one is a lot more jagged, the original is more spaced ..

            but yes, let’s say it is scanned/copied and pasted.. nice.

        2. Just saw the giff, mmm bit naughty to be making such a fuss if you’ve clearly lifted it from someone else!
          I really hope Swift carries on promoting artists work, not her fault if she gets shown unoriginal artwork. She can’t spend her millions on policing it. I don’t think she should be paying any artist to show their work, what massive exposure opportunity it is for them. If she wants to commission any of these artists that’s a whole other ball game and she should really check the originality then.

  3. Taylor had nothing to do with the making of that fox. A fan handmade that fox, added words to it, and signed, and lead Taylor to believe it was hers, and gave it to Taylor.

    After only 3 or 4 days, Taylor found out, that there might be a ownership issue, so she removed the fox.

    The artist wants Taylor to continue using the fox, but with her name on it. Taylor, apparently didn’t care that much for the plain drawn fox enough to bother with it.

    The Artist says, she’s not attacking Taylor, all while attacking her, and saying she’s two face about artists rights. Which could be a damaging attack, if Taylor had stole, and redesigned her fox, but clearly, Taylor had nothing to do with it, other then posting a fans work. Taylor had no reason to think, this plain drawn fox was similar to another artists work. No wrong doing on Taylor’s part, and the picture was only up 3 or 4 days.

    The artist has changed her story a few times on if Taylor’s lawyers told her she had to donate the money. Taylor’s lawyers say, they never told her anything about donation. The artist was trying to make Taylor look bad, trying to damage Taylor’s career, and tried forcing big bucks out of Taylor to make her go away. What a way to treat another artist.

    She probably dropped the matter, because she was ruining her own name, and the hate mail, and calls were causing her problems. She had no ground to stand on, and was damaging her own reputation.

  4. I don’t know how this Ally person could go after Taylor Swift when she did not go after the person who copied her design and signed her own name to it. Taylor just posted this on Instagram as her way of acknowledging and thanking a fan’s effort. She and her team never used it in any of their promotions of the 1989 Tour. I Know Places was never a single and not promoted.

    Great to say it’s about artists’ rights but Taylor seems like an innocent in the matter. It certainly appears this Ally person was looking for a big pay-off.

    So many fans who send Taylor artwork are on social media looking for her re-posting as Taylor’s acknowledgement of receipt. Now they know why she isn’t doing it anymore. She doesn’t know if it will come with a frivolous lawsuit from someone seeking free promotion by trying to dirty Taylor’s reputation.

    Sadly, the fan-art fox is much cuter than the original to my eyes.

    1. Completely agree that the law of unintended consequences kicked in with Ally’s brouhaha over her fox. Taylor has always been generous sharing fan’s work and giving credit to people. She certainly is not noted for pirating or stealing other’s work. So, now Ally has insured that no fan’s work can be recognized or shared.

      Ally is clearly lying that her receiving payment for her artwork was contingent on turning that payment over to charity. That would be illegal and Taylor’s attorneys would never make such an offer.

  5. Hyperllergic, nice job of reporting half a story, Try including that Swift’s team removed the re-post after they became aware that there was a question of origin. Or how about that Swift’s rep responded to the open letter and stated that the artist was offered a licensing fee with no requirement to donate any portion of the fee.
    Ally has made conflicting statements about the whole thing. She says she doesn’t see what’s so hard about Swift giving her credit, yet Swift removed the post….. so exactly where is she supposed to ‘give credit’???? On a copy of her work that was redrawn and altered by a third party??? Now that’s a legal quagmire!

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