World Famous Photographer Accuses Artist Of Ripping Off Her Work, Is Shocked By His Response

They say that imitation is the biggest form of flattery there is, but there’s no excuse for outright ripping off someone’s work and then reaping the financial rewards that come with that. There’s a pretty thin line between inspiration and copying. And though the line can get a bit blurred in some cases, it’s usually pretty clear when someone oversteps the bounds of polite ‘inspiration’ for commercial gain.

Well-known photographer Jingna Zhang has stated on Twitter that artist Jeff Dieschburg ripped off her photograph to make his oil painting. The painting went on to win a cash prize, was exhibited at the Strassen Stroossen Culture Center in Luxembourg, and was even presented to Princess Stéphanie. The painting is almost identical to the photograph, and apparently, this isn’t the first time that Dieschburg has pulled something like this. Photographer Bekka Björke has also had her work plagiarized.

The authorities are trying to defuse the tense situation, and the internet is absolutely outraged at what has happened. Scroll down to learn more about what happened, dear Pandas, and be sure to share your thoughts about it all in the comments. Do we have any artists reading this who have had their work plagiarized by others before? Tell us what happened and how you responded.

Bored Panda reached out to photographer Zhang and she was kind enough to answer our questions about why some people plagiarize the work of others and why educating students about copyrights is important. “Oftentimes, plagiarism and unauthorized use of photos are done mainly by those who are very young, students who don’t know better, people who think they can get away with it, or people who misunderstand fair use/transformative use and think it’s within their right to use anything found on the internet,” Zhang told us.

We also got in touch with photographer Björke, who also had her work copied. She was kind enough to tell us more about what happened with Dieschburg. “I was tagged in the comments on Zhang’s original Instagram post after someone had looked at the offending painter’s own Instagram and recognized my work. By the time I was able to look, his Instagram was already deleted, but a little digging on Facebook found 2 of my own photographs that he had painted and exhibited. I wasn’t sure how to contact Dieschburg at this point as it had already escalated to mass internet outrage and he had already refuted Zhang’s claims, so I reached out to the organizations that the paintings were exhibited through, though only one responded,” she told Bored Panda.

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Jingna Zhang is a world-famous photographer who creates stunning compositions. Recently, she had her work blatantly ripped off

Image credits: zemotion

The artist copied her photograph for his oil painting and then went on to reap the rewards

Image credits: zemotion

Image credits: zemotion

Artist Jeff Dieschburg’s knock-off painting was featured in an exhibition, and he won a cash prize

Image credits: zemotion

Image credits: zemotion

The artist has a very peculiar understanding of where the line between inspiration and copying lies

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Image credits: artfinder

Image credits: zemotion

Image credits: zemotion

In fact, this isn’t the first time that Dieschburg has copied the work of other professionals with only minor alterations

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Dieschburg even lawyered up

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The artist is clearly getting commercial gain from what he did

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Image credits: zemotion

Image credits: zemotion

Image credits: zemotion

Image credits: zemotion

Zhang’s photo has been seen around the world and is easily recognizable

Image credits: zemotion

Image credits: zemotion

Image credits: zemotion

According to photographer Zhang, there are some things that can be done to ensure that fewer people rip off the work of professionals. It all starts with good education in schools and universities.

“To prevent this from happening, any schools with programs intersecting with intellectual property rights should implement copyright seminar days. If people are more exposed to the subject, it can help everyone be more informed and aware,” she told Bored Panda that raising awareness can help prevent similar situations in the future.

“Separately, people experienced in handling copyright infringement cases can also discuss such matters to help improve people’s understanding of the issues that artists face. These can be learning opportunities and reference points for both the public and for artists who undergo similar situations.”

Photographer Björke told us that the copying of Zhang’s work is “definitely upsetting.” What’s more, it’s “impressive” that someone had “the audacity to copy someone so internationally renowned.”

“Her photographs are well-loved and recognizable, not to mention shot for well-known publications, so it’s no surprise someone called it out. The fact that this particular copy was awarded prize money and esteem, I think, makes it much messier than my own tiny part in this story, so I hope credit can be given to Zhang where it is due, and arts organizations and exhibitions can take greater steps to vet their contestants,” she explained.

“I don’t know what can be done to fully stop this happening in the future aside from more push to educate artists about what inspiration actually is and to empower them to explore their own ideas. Of course, there are legal ramifications depending on the who/what/where/when of a situation, but I think the larger question is an ethical one, and even begs the question of why does one make art in the first place? Where is the satisfaction in being praised for someone else’s work?” Björke said that ripping off someone else’s work for gain is unethical.

The photographer also shared her thoughts about why some creators copy other professionals. “I’d hope artists who copy other artists just don’t know any better and thus have the capacity to learn and grow beyond that to realize their own vision, though, of course, that’s not always the case. Personally, I view inspiration as the feeling a work of art elicits in you, and as an artist trying to recreate that feeling through your own work—maybe the theme, the story, the visual rhythm, the color palette, etc.—but when recreating someone else’s work entirely you’re not telling your own story, you’re using someone else’s personal visual language entirely,” she said.

“Master studies can be a fantastic learning tool for artists, and doing so for personal use, or basing something on work by living artists and asking them permission first, is all absolutely fine. I even think there is room in the world for art that depicts or alludes to other art to make an intentional statement about an original, or to explore things like context and societal importance, but in situations like this the work isn’t doing that: it’s benefiting purely off the merit of and skill put into the original photograph and trying to pass it off as its own,” she explained the difference between inspiration and copying.

The long and short of it is that Dieschburg’s painting is clearly derivative of Zhang’s work and she was not credited.

Photographer Zhang believes it’s perfectly fine that art students use her work for inspiration. However, she draws the line at her photos being plagiarized. Worse still, Dieschburg clearly has financial motives in mind. He won a 1.5k euro prize, has been raking in the glory, and has even put his painting up for sale for 6.5k euros.

Obviously, the situation’s pretty tense right now. Dieschburg has a very peculiar understanding of how copyright infringement works and tried to mansplain this to Zhang. Meanwhile, his lawyer believes that he’s being persecuted unfairly. The Luxembourgish municipality of Strassen is trying to solve the issue and defuse the tension.

“There are lots of legally free images and tools online people can use for references. Just because I or other creators share our work online, it doesn’t mean that our work is suddenly free for all to exploit,” Zhang explained on social media that just because creators share their work online doesn’t mean that they’re ripe for exploitation.

“To see someone praised, awarded, winning prize money, and shamelessly doing interviews while claiming credit despite copying so much of another person’s work… the audacity and utter disrespect. I don’t know how someone begins to think that this is ok and is something they can be proud of. I’m so speechless I can’t even begin to process what to do. Just insane,” she writes.

The work that Dieschburg copied is one of five covers that Zhang did for Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam in November 2017. The photographer said that she has been overwhelmed by the support and offers of help she’s received from people all around the world in the wake of the plagiarism scandal. “Your warmth makes going through these dark days a little more possible, I wish I can visit Luxembourg and enjoy this beautiful country under better circumstances one day,” she wrote on Instagram.

Zhang, born in Beijing and raised in Singapore, currently works in New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle. She was named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list in 2018, and her work has appeared on the covers and pages of Vogue China, Vogue Japan, Harper’s Bazaar China, and Elle Singapore, and elsewhere.

Here’s how some Twitter users reacted to the plagiarism of Zhang’s photo

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