An Artist on Getting Ripped Off

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Christopher Cooper is a California-based artist who works under the name Coop. Coop, who drew the cover illustration for the January 2013 issue of reason, specializes in cartoon iconography with a West Coast flavor; his imagery frequently features tricked-out hot rods, monsters, robots, gorgeous women, and an assortment of devilish characters. He has published multiple books and sells posters, clothing, and other items featuring his art on the website coopstuff.com. Senior Editor Brian Doherty interviewed Coop in March. 

Q: Do you feel like people are robbing from you when you see them bite your style? How often does it happen, and what can you do about it? What should you do about it?

A: Sometimes you see something that somebody's done that obviously has been influenced, and it's kind of a compliment. Then, of course, other times, you see somebody's just taken something of yours without any credit or any payment. And yeah, you feel like somebody broke into your house and stole your stereo. I go back and forth on that a lot. I have in the past had to sue people. 

Really though, it's kind of like the way in the grocery store they put all the cheap stuff right by the front door because they figure they'd rather have people steal the cheap stuff than the expensive stuff. And I kind of feel like with the era that we're in now with the Internet, there's a certain amount of that that's just going to happen. And there's nothing you can do about it. 

Q: What are your legal recourses as an artist? You can copyright specific images? 

A: I copyright everything. And yeah, you can pursue it, but it costs money to have a lawyer go after people. Most of the time, a simple cease-and-desist letter will stop people from doing that. But it's tough. Basically it's one of those things where, if it's somebody bigger than you, they sort of do it with the expectation of, "Well, what are they going to do—come after me? I've got more lawyers than they have." 

The strangest thing that I've discovered is that I'll find just some art student or design student on the Internet who will take an image of mine and do something with it. And usually in a case like that I'll just send them an email and say, "Hey, that's not cool. Knock it off." And what's really frightening about it is a lot of times these are kids who are either in art school or have attended art school, and they're like, "Oh, well, I had no idea that I couldn't do that. I thought that anything that's on the Internet is free." And that's kind of the generational issue that we're up against. 

Q: A lot of people celebrate both the freeness of modern culture and the culture of appropriation. You know, everything's out there in the world, and we're taking it and rearranging it. You had your own influences. Do you get that sort of feedback from people when you lean on them? Maybe that whole punk rock thing, like, "Hey, man, we're just taking the world." How do you react to that?

A: You definitely get that. To a certain extent, I agree with that. But there's definitely a line between using things as homage and just outright taking things. I look at that on a case-by-case basis. There are things that I look at and I say, "Oh, that's kind of cool." I see how they're sort of reinterpreting what I've done. And then there are things where they just blatantly scanned a page out of one of my books and made a T-shirt or something like that. That's just ripping off. 

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  1. that obviously has been influenced, and it’s kind of a compliment. Then, of course,

  2. Let’s not get carried away with this idea of Coop creating “his” style. I see in his stuff: pin-up photo references, Rat Fink, 50’s culture in general, all kinds of ideas he borrowed, didn’t create, & that have been done for 70 yrs.

    One particular smoking devil he did in 1996 I think? Looks almost identical to a drawing that I did in 1994 that I tattooed on my friend’s arm after. In San Diego too. I’m not mad or accusing him or anything. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. I don’t know. Just goes to show how generic some ideas really are. I mean seriously, a robot, a devil, a hot rod? Far from original. I do like Coop’s stuff, but he doesn’t own monsters, fire, pin-ups, or the 50’s. Let’s get that perfectly clear.

    That said, I like him, & wish him & all of us nothing but the best, and I hate it when people rip me off too, but to be honest, I use “been-done” ideas & reference pics too so whatever. We all do. That’s the difference between having influences & stealing somebody’s stuff outright for $$$.

    1. Yep. I’m right. lol Happy Halloween!!!

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