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Artist takes clothier to task for filching image

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The image of Kal Barteski's painting was seen on a purse in a Florida JC Penney store.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The image of Kal Barteski's painting was seen on a purse in a Florida JC Penney store. Photo Store

First it was hanging on Winnipeg artist Kal Barteski's living room wall. Then it turned up on a high-end purse in a Florida JC Penney store. Then it hit Twitter and all turned out OK.

The strange journey of Barteski's black-and-white painting, which she says was copied without her permission by a well-known Canadian clothier, highlights the struggle artists face in the Internet age battling for compensation for unauthorized reproductions of their work.

"I don't want to dedicate half my week to finding out who is stealing things," said Barteski. "I want to dedicate my time to making things."

The painting, which features the phrase "When you love what you have, you have everything you need" in paintbrush script, hung in Barteski's home for years before it was sold a few weeks ago. But it also appeared on her artists' website, where low-resolution copies have been filched before.

But never as badly as this. By chance, a friend shopping at a JC Penney store in Port Charlotte, Fla., earlier this week spotted a purse emblazoned with Barteski's painting and immediately recognized the image. The friend snapped a photo, emailed it to Barteski, bought the purse and mailed it to Barteski.

There's little question the image is Barteski's. The paint-splatter effect around many letters is the same, one word is missing the same G and Barteski's signature, reduced to a squiggly line because the reproduction was poor quality, can also be seen inside a capital D.

The Red River College graduate figures there are thousands of the purses in hundreds of JC Penney stores in the United States alone.

JC Penney said Tuesday it had just been informed of the issue and had no comment. The bag was manufactured by Call it Spring, a division of Montreal-based retailer Aldo Group.

Tuesday morning, Barteski took both JC Penney and Call it Spring to task on her blog, accusing them of stealing her work. She said she may have to hire a lawyer to protect her intellectual property rights.

"If someone came into my house and stole the four by six-foot original painting of this... it would be theft and things would be done. But, the Internet is a different soup," she wrote.

Though it's a backhanded compliment her design is viewed as commercially lucrative, Barteski says she's an example of an artist whose livelihood is undermined by unauthorized use.

"If my work is good enough to steal, then why wouldn't it be good enough to collaborate on and do something legal?" she said.

By day's end Tuesday, that's what happened. Barteski's blog created a mini-Twitter storm and she found herself on the phone with Call it Spring's design, marketing and legal staff who offered her a reasonable cut of the profits from the purse and said they were interested in her other designs and future collaborations.

"I felt like they understood and were trying to make it right," she said Tuesday afternoon. "I do feel a lot better after talking to them today."

Staff at the Aldo Group did not return calls from the Free Press for comment, but Barteski said they were surprisingly responsive to her complaint, much more so than other unauthorized users she's gone after.

Three years ago, Barteski discovered a Vancouver store was selling poor-quality downloads of another image from her online gallery for $25. After a little sleuthing, she realized the extent of the online theft of her work was huge. The image had been downloaded more than 1.5 million times and was displayed on tote bags, coffee mugs and necklaces all over the world.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2014 B1

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Updated on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 7:07 AM CST: Replaces photo, adds photos

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