For the next several days I was glued to my computer researching every way I could think of to find images of resin sculpture fairy houses that might have used my designs. It was daunting work. Every day, every hour as I explored images, websites and sales pages I felt sicker and angrier about what I discovered. I soon filled up many file folders with screen captured images…and realized that this was bigger than I could have ever imagined.
I found that there were 11 designs that were clearly and unequivocally mine being used without my permission. They were being sold literally all over the world. Through big global product distribution centers (chiefly in China), thru national distributors in several countries/regions, thru several big online international retailers (names you would all recognize but that I cannot use here) as well as various sellers using eBay, Etsy and other marketplace platforms all the way down to individual retailers- some big some quite small that had an online presence. I could see them all. I was even able to track and trace individual ships carrying containers supposedly loaded with crates of these illegal products destined to land in Los Angeles and in Virginia on the east coast.
While it was easy to see that they had copied my work directly and had made only small changes (probably for ease of manufacturing) it was difficult to see where these were actually being made. Most of the sculptures seemed to originate in China though it is possible that some might have made here (given what certain websites said about their processes) but what was clearly obvious was that my designs were the origins of the copies regardless of where they were being made.
The individual websites where they were being SOLD online were everywhere… all over the US, in Canada, England, Scotland, all thru the EU such as in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands….in the middle east in Israel, UAE and Bahrain (which was astonishing to me), in South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand and even in South America in Brazil and Chile. It was truly global in terms of where people could buy these sculptures for their gardens. The greatest numbers were in the US, Canada and in Europe & England closely followed by Australia (where the colors used on some of the designs were unique to that region). If these had been legitimately contracted products, I should have been thrilled with the global interest and sales. But they were stolen and I was seeing not one thin dime nor any recognition for my creativity.
After a few days of this discovery process I felt as if I had my innards had been cut open and my heart handed to me on a plate I felt so utterly devastated. The emotions were ghastly and overwhelming. I took a break… and cried. A lot. What could I, an insignificant female artist of a certain age with few resources, do against such an overwhelming abuse of my creativity? I felt defeated and crushed.
The next day I looked online for successful litigation cases where this sort of thing had happened before and learned that while there were thousands of instances of this kind of theft taking place by companies with no sense of honor or respect for artist’s work there were, sadly, very few success stories. I thought about writers and musicians who must deal with this issue all the time. I reached out to a few law firms and organizations that specialize in assisting artists with copyright infringements. I heard back from most and they all said basically the same thing: that unless I had deep pockets or was already an internationally-known brand my options were few to none at all. I spoke again with my agent and his corporate attorney and they said basically the same thing….it happens all the time, there’s nothing you can do about it, even if you went to court you’d never win because you’d be going up against giants with well-paid lawyers.
I honestly contemplated giving it all up right then and there (not my life, just my career as an artist).
I wrote and meditated. I recalled again and again that moment in the garden just before all this unfolded. I heard the comforting words from my grandmother that everything was going to be okay. And I was also shown several times the moment of the very last words my (beloved) father had said to me as he lay on a gurney waiting for a helicopter to take him to a hospital in another state where he would die in a few days…he said “Sal, I love you…you gotta keep making your little houses, okay? It’s important.”
Why would they both be speaking to me now, from the other side of the veil telling me it was going to be okay when I felt as if my creative life was over and gone? I decided that what they were telling me was that I should try and fight this. That somehow there was a way to find some justice and to regain my faith in who I was and what I was doing as an artist….even if I could not see where the path even started let alone where it was going to go, I needed to find it and follow it. So I resolved to listen to their guidance despite how I felt and keep going.
Next…. Breadcrumbs and a possible path