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Artist Busted at SCOPE Miami for Copying Photographers’ Works

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During last week’s SCOPE Miami fair, Virginia-based artist Jason Levesque was browsing the aisles when a group of works in the Robert Fontaine Gallery booth caught his eye: They were paintings by Miami-based artist Josafat Miranda, and they were very clearly based on photographs by Levesque, while others were similarly self-evident copies of photos by his friend and fellow photog Marie Killen. “It’s such blatant disregard for another artist’s talents,” gallerist Robert Fontaine told the Miami New Times’s Riptide blog. “I completely pulled all of his work. I don’t want anything more to do with him.”

Fontaine, who had represented Miranda for about a year prior to last week’s fair, was selling five of his works for roughly $4,000 each. The portrait paintings depicted whimsical portraits of more or less surreal female figures based quite blatantly on similar photos by Levesque and Killen.

Levesque took to Facebook after noticing Miranda’s work at the fair, posting an image of the painter’s works alongside his own and images by Killen. The gallery eventually heard about the controversy, and Miranda even sent Levesque a message explaining that his paintings were intended as an homage.

“A Beatles cover band calls themselves a Beatles cover band,” Levesque told Riptide. “Even if my name had been on there, it still would have been a problem, but he kept the source work a secret.”

“I didn’t steal these images,” Miranda told the blog in his defense. “My only mistake was not giving the original artists credit. I’ve now spoken to them and apologized to them. We came to the agreement that I have to take everything down and destroy it, which is exactly what I’m going to do.”

— Benjamin Sutton

(Image: Miranda’s painting on the left and Levesque’s photograph on the right. Photo via Jason Levesque/Facebook.)

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  1. Too many artists, of all levels, think copying is ok, and need to get up to speed on laws concerning intellectual property. Not only is copying immature and unethical, it’s nearly always illegal. As a painter, I’m continually appalled by what passes for so called original art, and this is pretty much like the idiots who copy star wars and sell it on tee shirt sites, then cry when the owner, Disney,gets it removed. “but I drew it myself” they cry! NO clue what it means to create ones own work.

  2. I have been the victim of someone copying me. I totally agree that the work of the offending artist should be destroyed.

  3. It’s sad that he still seems completely clueless to his crime and his only remorse is he got caught. What a moron!

  4. the blind leading the blind again. copying is not illegal — are you a complete fool? everything you make is unconsciously copied from somewhere else. this miranda guy is making illustrations based on photographs. um, big whup. can the photographer draw? probably not, lol, which is why he makes photographs. which btw suck hard. the illus though are really cool: they rip crappy photographs and improve upon them.

  5. Dorothy, you’re a dumbass. There are copyright laws so yeah, it IS illegal and this Miranda dipshit could easily be slapped with a lawsuit by profiting off another’s imagery. Oh and can the photographer draw? See for yourself:

    I would say, hells yeah and A LOT better.

  6. linsey, those drawings are nice but HEAVILY influenced by Miyazaki. so what is your point? LOOK AWAY? and yes worth more than all the Disneys reduced to making franchises of franchises.

  7. wollfs, you really need to educate yourself, look at more art and understand the difference between inspired by the techniques of another artist and a complete rip. What Miranda did is a total traced copy of imagery, idea, and subject matter. Other than Levesque’s beautifully executed line-work (which isn’t plagiarism but technique) and similar use of colors I’m confused how you can compare his aesthetic with the whimsical aspect of Miyazaki.

    It is clear that those who side with Miranda have very little artistic insight.

    Miranda has lost all respect and credibility in the eyes of the art word (artists, gallerists,dealers,collectors etc.) and rightfully so.

  8. I think both images at the top of this article are what happens when “the eyes of the art world” come to rest on your soul. The art world is obsessed with copy paste at the moment just because that is the latest trend it is wringing money / hysteria from. Nothing in the art world is there to fund artists to create original expression. It is rip off city. And boy watch out artists if you form collectives or collaborate – the art world will create the legal maze that will break up the Beatles all over again. There is very little to the profession of artist in the art world and very much to all the rest of the bureaucratic bric-a-brac that interfaces with slush money sloshing around searching for cultural artistfact. The best art piece in this entire debacle is probably the legal mumbo-jumbo agreement that gives the power of one ORIGINAL artist to force the second COPY artist who put pen to paper to ceremoniously BURN his creation. THAT IS ART. ART WITH POWER. Not the art of the whimsical…

  9. Agree, many famous artists think it’s fine to take picture from Internet. There was another at SCOPE who do just the same…


    FB: D’ou viennent ces personnages que tu peins ?

    xxxx: Je prends des photos, parfois on m’en prête, pârfois je les subtilise sur internet, la seule chose importante pour moi étant le résultat final sur le mur, et l’impression qui s’en dégage.

  10. The copies are way too similar to be an homage or ‘inspired by’. I would even speculate that this Miranda person may well have projected the original photographs onto a sheet of paper and traced over the essential components. Very little evidence of any input of original embellishments.

  11. I am an illustrator and I think this is way off base. This is direct copying….likely tracing. Painters have so much we can work with…endless imaginations. To completely rip off a photographer like this is nothing even remotely like an homage. It’s theft.

  12. This is not a homage or even inspired by, it is direct copying. And, even if the artist says he didn’t think it was an infrigement, not to give credit to the photographer (initially) says to me that he knew exactly what he was doing! I agree Anita, it’s theft.

  13. I think it’s fine what he did… if he where fifteen years old and learning by copying. Because that is what it is, a copy. An unwarranted theft of someone’s hard work. Pretty weak and disappointing to see this happening and even more so to hear it’s somewhat prevalent now.

    I am glad to see using social media as a device of pressure against wrongs has once again allowed things to be made right.

  14. I think its a shame what happened here for everyone involved. Firstly, Fontaine is a fantastic gallery that is well known, his artwork is diverse and he features original artists. I hope this doesnt hurt his gallery because it is AMAZING!

    I don’t think it was a great idea to copy “exactly” the photos. In my industry people remake the same ol stuff in new and fresh ways all the time. Music- beats over and over… Are there any true orginal ideas any more really? I would love to see some of your stuff-the artists who claim to be so cutting edge and “new”. Direct copy-not cool. Original isnt always better. In this case, the new painted versions were far better.

    Miranda is a fantastic artist that has produced a number of series that have been successful. He learned a hard lesson here. I hope this witch hunt ends soon so he can continue to create. As far as the photographer, copying a shame, illegal yes, a kudos to his works, yes- I hope he gets some renewed sales. (maybe all this attention will give him just that)

    Over use of stupid bunnies…YES- SO NOT ORIGINAL-overused/overdone-overIT. There are so many “bunnies” that its actually stomach turning. At least when they are painted there is an artistic expression. Photos of bunny ears and bunny heads.. so done. Lets get over it..Copycats, Witch hunts, 2012. I hope that everyone standing on their proverbial soap box has a clean closet.. What was is that Bob Marley said..(paraphrase not copy lol) those who point finger will have two pointing back at you.. careful.

  15. The same thing happened to me a few weeks ago when I attended a concert of a band that I used to work with, only to find they were selling a t-shirt with an artist rendering from one of my photos – for which they had no current right of use (many years ago it was used as a Publicity photo). Outside a bootlegger was selling a 12×8 laminated copy of one of my photos!

    Of course I know these people and don’t want to make too big a deal out of it, but I want to stop it – what can i do?

  16. Well I hope Marie Killen press’s full charges against Josafat Miranda for stealing and trying to profit from other’s creative expression !

  17. I’m a painter who studied with two American masters and then went on to ultimately show [and sell] in Chelsea, w/ paintings in private collections all over the world. And before all of that, I did design work for the Grateful Dead, the Band, and several others. And at one moment in my life, many many years ago, I thought I’d “arrived” when one of my t-shirt designs was bootlegged for the first time.

    One of the things that I’ve since learned is the truth of something one of my teachers said to me: “It is the job of the artist to make the invisible visible.”

    Copying someone else’s work clearly doesn’t fall under that rubrik.

    The “copyists” in museums, down through the centuries, were doing it to learn what the masters were doing. Copying a photograph doesn’t even accomplish THAT.

    If you haven’t yet found your own voice, and are just doing it for the money, all I can say after long years of experience is: There are much easier ways to do that.

  18. by Ari Rosenthal

    Gotta say, nobody has commented on what a mediocre photograph this is. I can see much more of an offense if the photograph had been copied and slightly modified and then presented as a unique work than this. This opens up a whole can of worms. Talking about copying, is every photograph of a unique architectural work considered copying? Is that artistic fraud? Miranda clearly has artistic talent. Should his entire image be tarnished from this? This matter should have been dealt with privately first. If Miranda and Fontaine balked at the accusation, then going public would have been appropriate. I can see where Levesque would be upset though. Perhaps a licensing fee would have been apropos.

  19. Hmmm. Artist sees photography he likes. EIther pretty much projects and copies “most” of the lines of the photograph and then adds one or two additions. It is very obvious this is a copy of the original work. Then artist takes painting to gallery which then sells or tries to sell the painting for $4000 (wonder what was the price of the photograph?). Not one dime of the $4000 goes to the person with the original work. And no mention of who the original artist was. Such an obvious ripoff. I agree since this is how it went down, the paintings should be destroyed if nothing else as a punishment to the offending artist and as a showcase to others.

    There could have been another option. The painter could have agreed to pay the photographer a percentage of each sale along with credit to the photographer. This could have been arraigned before the painting went to gallery; but after the fact could work since the painter had been exposed. The photographer could then have gained exposure and monetary award. The painter could then have saved some face in the community and sold his work. Only issue here might be the painting takes away from future sales of the photograph whereby the original artist gains less money for his creation than he might have expected. Maybe it is just me, but that kind of painting and photograph don’t excite me into buying either!

    I have had a painter ask me if I could send her some high resolution images so she could copy/paint them ’cause she liked my work so much. She would then sell HER paintings in the open market. I wrote back that I was sure we could come to some kind of terms for a “licensing” agreement based on her sales of THOSE images. She wrote back that she could not afford to give me any money at all and could I just send her the images. I could not believe the reasoning in her mind. At least she took the trouble of asking. End result, she received no images from me. For all I know, she did a screen print and projected the images on her canvas, painted them, sold them, and I am none the wiser.

  20. And no one mentions Richard Prince or Warhol.

    Jesus fucking christ.

  21. It is only a copyright infringement if it is an exact duplicate of the original work. Clearly it is not as they are toatally different media. It is maybe a form of plagerism but nothing illegal at all. If you take a photograph of an art show scene would every artist whose paintings are are depicted in the photograph sue you for breach of copyright.

    And if YOU are a professional quit calling a lady Dumnass. You are showing that you are a bad mouth, low intelligence person. Not a professional in any sense of the word. I apologize for his remarks Dorothy , I am sure he is too much of an worm to say sorry!


  22. As a photographer, I have never ever considered any of my work “as Artwork” I am using technology to reproduce what the camera sensor sees through the lens. I can add bits in Photoshop but am merely enhancing what is on the stored image. I cannot even draw a straight line. The true artist is as far as I am concerned many many times more skilled than I could ever be. I have photographed many paintings for artists BUT I by copyright law own the photographs copyright. However I cannot sell the photographs to a third party without express permission of the commissioner of the photographs, i.e. the original artist. If I were able to paint, and I sat and made a copy of someone elses painting, I have not infringed his copyright. On the matter of giving credit to the original photographer, the idea is good but funny, how is an artist supposed to paint the acknowledgement, on the canvas! The gallery could put a small sign saying “After the original by …….. .


  23. All the artist needed to do was contact the photographer and ask for permission. Maybe make an offer of a percentage of the artwork’s sale price to sweeten the deal.

    If permission was denied, the artist could legally still use the basic composition of the photo, as long as it wasn’t a direct copy. Some courts have used a “10% difference” parameter in judgements. In other words, if the new work is 10% or more different than the photo, the artist is in the clear.

    The bottom line is that all art is derivative to some extent.

  24. I think the term that is not being discussed is BORROWING. The painter borrowed the concept of the bunny costume laden girl. Its really lame because it reveals that the artist really didnt have any ideas backing their work. Thats what’s embarrassing!
    A painter has an entire universe of possibilities and subjects and to just BORROW an image (matched the lipstick..really???) is shitty and boring. Unless it is used to really articulate something else effectively it is not worth anyone’s time. What value does a painting have if all that’s there is replication with almost zero thoughts behind it – It’s just decoration. Might as well go buy some art at IKEA!

  25. I can’t believe the range of misconceived ideas in the comments above. It does not matter if:
    1) the photographer can draw
    2) you think bunnies are “stomach turning”
    3) the photograph is “mediocre”
    4) the artist who copied gave credit to the photographer
    5) two different mediums were used
    It is ILLEGAL to copy. An artist lawyer explained to me that there is no 10% rule. If you go to court, and the jury thinks you used someone else’s photograph to paint your picture, and you did not get permission pryor, it is ILLEGAL. PERIOD.

  26. You can not copywriter an idea. Going to court is expensive. No matter how ironclad you may think your argument is there is no guarantee that you will win your case. That is why 95 per cent of cases a re decided before trial. There is enough of a difference between the photo and the painting to make litigation a waste of time.

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