Quebec artist shocked, angry to find cheap reproductions of her work sold online

Elise Genest has found hundreds of knock-offs of her work on major retail platforms like eBay and Amazon.

Lawyer says situation can be helped if artists only upload low-resolution images online, using watermarks

Elise Genest says she's been seeing cheap knock-offs of her artwork online for the past two years. (Submitted by Elise Genest/Frederic Simard)

Elise Genest has spent almost a decade working as an artist who paints and photographs horses.

One of her 40-inch by 60-inch paintings sells for $3,200, but cheap knock-offs of her work have surfaced online and sell for less than $100.

"It's a shock," she told CBC Montreal's Daybreak. "Sixty dollars doesn't even cover the price of the canvas."

Genest lives and works out of Pont-Rouge, Que., a small village near Quebec City, and she only paints horses — she used to work with the Montreal-based equestrian multimedia show Cavalia.

She said her passion for horses is what got her painting in the first place.

The online reproductions caught her attention when a customer sent her a link to try to haggle down the price of one of her prints.

"I found about 29 prints in one day," she said. "I was very angry."

Elise Genest says her passion for horses got her started painting in the first place. (Submitted by Elise Genest/Vanessa Dube Caron)

Fighting back

She said that initially she tried to fight back by reporting the listing to the platforms they appeared on — including major retailers like eBay and Amazon.

But it was an exhausting process and as soon as she got one listing taken down, another would pop up.

"The hand-painted copies are actually very, very bad," she said. "You can see it's been made in 20 minutes from an image. And the prints are screen captured."

Some of the prints she sees online are replicas of images she posts on her website — except her name and logo are removed.

These prints often sell for between $12 to $20 and ship from China.

"Now, I'm absolutely numb to it," said Genest, who has largely given up trying to enforce her copyright.

Luckily, she said, the impact hasn't been too severe financially, since she makes her living more from limited edition large prints and paintings which she sells directly through her site.

This listing offers a print of Genest's art for $16. (Submitted by Elise Genest)

A common story

Allen Mendelsohn, a lawyer who teaches at McGill University, told Daybreak that this type of copyright infringement is all too common.

"To stop it ... it's a full-time job," he said. "I tend to advise clients to just forget it."

He said that trying to battle international virtual sellers is especially tough and that the operations behind the sellers can be hard to trace.

The best offence is good defence, he said, saying that artists and business owners can protect their content by only putting low-resolution images online and using large watermarks.

"They are not ultimate barriers, but they will certainly help stop people just taking the picture and doing whatever they want with it," he said.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak