Did Bitboy Crypto plagiarize and steal someone else’s digital art or did he create a proper remix? How much do you need to change to someone else’s creation to make original art out of it? Creating a crypto-inspired version of Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali or The Scream by Edward Munch is generally considered fine. However, what happens when you place your logo on someone else’s work?
Let me point out that any line I draw in the sand is based on my opinion. It’s hard to draw a line in the first place, because when is something a creative addition and when are we talking about pure plagiarism?
Over the weekend I had some discussions with Eric Rhones from digital art studio Second Realm. The conversation started over the fact that Ben “BitBoy Crypto” Armstrong used someone else’s artwork to make money on minting platform Rarible. Cacho Motion published his creation on Instagram in December 2019, which was used by Armstrong in the creation of a collectible digital card.
Armstrong messed up the loop, causing a small glitch in the animation. In addition he added a silver Bitboy frame and placed his logo on the flail. Rhones, I will call him Second Realm from now on, suggested this was part of art. It’s a remix, using existing art to create something new. He stands by it, and emphasized it’s okay to do such a thing.
I objected to Bitboy’s actions, and even suggested legal action. Second Realm responded stating:
It’s a remix. we shouldn’t be calling for their removal just because we don’t like the optics, methods, or lack of credit given. simply put, a remix is not theft. as much as some would like it to be. let’s not forget that it’s generally respected/accepted under copyright laws.Second Realm – November 27th on Twitter
This is interesting, because the battle between small artists and big brands has been going on for quite some time. Independent artists regularly see their work stolen by big companies like Zara or Forever 21. VICE had a nice article about this topic a few years back. This was at a time when fashion companies stole designs from Instagram artists. Now fast forward to 2020, and we’re talking about crypto influencers using artworks by Instagram artists for their digital collectibles.
When is something a remix?
If we follow the thoughts of Second Realm, the question will be: when is a remix a remix? What do we need to change to the original artwork to make something a remix? In my opinion Bitboy hasn’t done enough to make his art into a remix, as a matter of fact his addition to the original artwork is one of branding and not one of creativity. He didn’t give the girl a new outfit or created a new visual effect. Instead he added his own Bitboy branding to the art, failing to create a proper remix.
Second Realm didn’t agree. He backed up his opinion by pointing at the works of the controversial artist Richard Price. Prince uses other people’s photographs for his own art. Four years ago Prince drama occurred after he printed Instagram posts and comments on canvas. Prince is a drama seeker, it seems like he’s getting a kink out of it. However, Second Realm also pointed me to a TED Talk by Kirby Ferguson: “Embrace the Remix“.
I watched it. A remix is about using old media, copying, transforming and combining them. It’s an interesting talk that covers how music artists always borrow from each other, even covering smartphone technology and how Apple first copied others and then started suing others who copied. Ferguson stated that creative ideas are always built on top of the ideas of others.
Did Bitboy do something wrong?
Ferguson presented three rules for a remix: Copy. Transform. Combine. We first need to see an idea and have a creative desire to use it. In that case we would copy that idea. Then we need to add our own concept to it and build something on top of the original. What follows is the end product, a combination of the original idea and the new concept.
Whether you consider Pepe to be art, is something up for another discussion. However, in general Pepe creations are always build on top of other creative works. In this case a Pepe creation is based on The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo. A remix or plagiarism? You decide.
During the discussion with Second Realm I decided to grap one of his creations and add a red border to it. This would basically be the same thing Bitboy did, but without place a logo. In hind sight I should’ve done that too. Anyway, according to Second Realm this is a fine example of a remix. I get that idea. But using somebody else’s work, putting my logo on it, and then making money of it just feels wrong in my book. What do you think?
It’s a grey area for sure. Music artist RAC refrains from making a judgement about the artwork itself. However, he claims to always get fell permission from the artist whose work he’s using. “Everything I create is just me filtering all my influences. It’s my own personal lens on the world. Some of those influences can be obvious sometimes. It’s a spectrum though and you can definitely tell when something is clearly just copying”, he wrote.
Where do YOU draw the line? In my opinion an artist should reposition the original artwork in a new context with a new meaning. Only then can we talk about a remix. And yes, ideally there should be credit to the original artwork obviously.
Join our community on Discord to discuss this topic. I would love to hear more opinions. In addition a friendly reminder for our call for gaming-inspired artworks for an upcoming curated exposition during the Play to Earn Game Festival.