Ok, let's get this straight we love Banksy. He's taken the art world by storm with his fabulously controversial legitimacy that hits the viewer right between the eyes. The secretive Bristol born artist is a one-man PR machine, whose street art images have become a global phenomenon. Stunts like hanging his own artwork in stuffy art galleries, spraying rats on the BBC headquarters, hitting the walls of Palestine and Bethlehem have all added to his notoriety. Driven by the growth of the Internet the guy must have become a multi-millionaire ten times over.
Like a lot of things in life, with fame and fortune you also get frustration. He's abused the law, so he can not call on the law to protect his art. Lots of lucky folks I know who heard about Banksy in his early formative years, when he was just another prankster, own a few of his prints. If they wanted to they could probably pay off half their mortgages if they released them onto the market. So Banksy makes his cash discreetly by releasing a few choice works to the auction houses. Original works with values into the hundreds of thousands … I like to think he uses this cash to fund his globetrotting vandalism crusade and he's not just some greed sodden bloke who's brought some country pile now he's made it.
So what exactly is my problem you might ask? Where is this rant going? Well I want to let you into the problem faced by Banksy and the phenomenon he has created. Have a quick look on eBay and make a search for 'banksy canvas', you might expect to see a few prints being bid up to tens of thousands of pounds. Reality is, you'll find thousands of mass produced canvases of Banksy's work. Some of them ripped from the internet, others photographs taken by the manufacturers themselves. So why do not eBay sort it out. Pull all these rip offs from their site never to be seen again ?? Well the 'law is a donkey' my friend 'particularly the international laws of copyright.
It's totally illegal to scan an artist's artwork without their permission and then start to sell copies. Generally the gallery seeks an artist's permission and then agreements a level of commission for each reproduction. This is a great relationship and has its routes in the patronage methods of 500 years ago. The artist gets rewarded and also the creative freedom in the future to produce more exciting art. Banksy's situation is different … as he chooses to place his work in a public place (illegally), then he is in effect giving the right over to the general public to photograph it. The law states that, if you photograph anything in a public outdoor setting, then you as the photographer own the rights not Banksy! It's the same principals as all outdoor architecture. Anyone can photograph the Eiffel Tower or the London Eye and then sell them as prints!
Going back to my original question … who exactly is laughing all the way to the Banksy? Its looks like this loophole in the reproduction of its street art, being being fully exploited by most online galleries. Google search 'banksy canvas' and you'll find hundreds of stores offering Banksy urban art reproduced by the thousands onto canvas. Many people new to the Banksy phenomenon snap these cheap canvases up as they want a Banksy but can not afford the real thing. This practice while legal, is not exactly reputable!
So should we sympathize with Banksy in his predicament? Well, If you sleep with a dog expect to get fleas! The Banksy phenomenon has been fueled by the nature of his street work and also his courtship of the printed media. It's almost impossible to control the output as a result. His decision to closely guard his anonymity, while also assisting his notoriety, has effectively taken his power away to take action against the Banksy profiteers.
Our advice is not to fuel the Banksy profiteers by buying these cheap canvas print rip offs. Look out for the next Banksy. Research the street art market … find the street art forums. The 'woostercollective' is always a great place to start. Do not buy a brand name, find art you love and try to make your purchases based on that. You'll sleep a lot easier in the long run if you follow these simple tips.
Luke Hollingworth is an Artist and Entrepreneur who runs an online Art Gallery in the United Kingdom: Art By People. Publishing this article is free but please credit the author and URL when used.