A 19-year-old Vancouver artist is relieved and empowered after winning an international legal battle when one of her photos was adapted for use in an anti-Islam campaign by a Belgian political party.
Rosea Lake, a graphic-design student at Capilano University, was successful in getting a judgment in her favour that saw an Antwerp court impose a fine, order a public apology and order the party Vlaams Belang to cease production on all future copies of the pamphlets and posters that copied the concept of one of Lake’s photos.
It’s a judgment that is viewed as incredibly significant by legal experts.
For Lake, it’s just a stepping stone in her career .
“I think this is just a drop in the coffee pot of artists’ rights,” said Lake. “I think the fact that a penniless 19-year-old graphic design student could find a way to sue and win against a giant money-backed political party in a foreign country is amazing.”
Risks of posting artwork online
Lake found out about the misuse of her photograph through her online networks after the party used a similar image in a campaign targeted against immigration and Muslim women.
Lake’s photo of a model lifting up her skirt to reveal a chart of labels on her leg had gone viral in January after she posted it on Tumblr, garnering her over 730,000 shares and a flurry of media attention.
Her photo features labels from “prudish” and “old-fashioned” to “slut” and “whore,” written on the back of the leg to protest the ways women are judged for wearing different skirt lengths.
Vlaams Belang’s version added labels such as “Sharia conformist,” “Moderate Muslim,” and “stoning” onto a photo of a prominent right-wing Belgian senator who is the president of an anti-Islam women’s group.
Lake said the similarities between the two photos were spotted instantly by many people.
“It was obviously enough of a copy for people in different cities in Belgium to find me on the Internet and individually tell me this was all happening.”
Joost Blom, a University of British Columbia professor specializing in Internet law, said Lake’s case is a good example of the risks of posting artwork online.
“It illustrates the problem that if you post something and it’s widely noticed, it’s very easy for somebody to pick it up,” Blom said. “I don’t think there’s much difficulty in saying that her moral rights were violated in this case, however, and indeed that apparently was the conclusion.”
Support from Belgian advocates
The Brussels-based feminist group, My Choice, Not Yours, backed Lake by paying for her legal fees and travel costs.
Started by fashion designer and social activist Rachida Aziz, the group raised nearly $2,200 to pay for Lake’s flight and some of her legal fees throughout the case. The group also handled Lake’s media relations and started a social media campaign in an effort to raise awareness about the case.
“We had over 40 articles written in one week about the case,” said Aziz, “and that’s only written articles. There’s been much more in websites and on TV.”
Aziz believes their fight has set a precedent for artists to use to their advantage in the future. “We got more than we asked for,” Aziz said. “Not only did the court rule on the work being abused, but also on the content and the intent of the artist being misused and abused.”
‘An important victory’
Carol Aitken, Lake’s mentor and co-coordinator of Capilano’s illustration and graphic-design program, is proud of her student’s victory.
“I think it sets an amazing precedent,” said Aitken. “The fact that this kind of thing is taken seriously, that student work has value, is a very cheering story to hear. As artists in general, we won an important victory here.”
Lake believes her win bodes well for her future. “I hope it will help when potential employers Google me. Hopefully they’ll find it and think ‘Oh, that’s cool,’” said Lake. “Moving forward, I plan to keep making art because I like doing it.”
Lake won’t be backing down from creating contentious pieces either. “I think as a young person without a whole lot to lose, I feel like I have more of a voice. You’ll hear and see more from me at some point.”