They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but for artist Nurguiaana Mestnikova, it’s the sincerest form of copyright violation. After the 23-year-old student’s art was stolen without credit two years ago, she kept encountering her drawing online on blogs and websites where she never intended it to be posted — and few, if any, of which pointed out that she was the artist who created it in the first place. On Sunday, she decided she had had enough of watching other people transform and profit from her art, so she tweeted a statement begging people to credit artists for their work. It struck a chord among Twitter users, who chimed in with their own stories of stolen artwork, and soon, the hashtag had taken off as quickly as the drawing that started it all. Bustle has reached out to Mestnikova for comment and will update when we hear back.
Mestnikova, who goes by “ceruleanwax” online, is from the Sakha Republic in northeast Russia. She has been drawing in her spare time for years, and in 2015, she posted an illustration of a boy and bow-and-arrow-wielding girl on Tumblr and VK, a popular Russian social network. At the time, it didn’t receive much attention; even today, it sits at a little less than 1,200 notes on Tumblr. Soon, however, she saw it appear on other blogs, where it received far more attention.
The catch? Some of these blogs failed to credit Mestnikova as the artist, and without a watermark, there was nothing to indicate she had drawn it. All that time she spent working on the illustration, not to mention the years of practice leading up to its creation, went unrecognized.
Since then, the uncredited drawing has appeared on countless blogs, and it can be found emblazoned on products from phone cases to T-shirts. Finally, Mestnikova decided to tweet about her frustration with the situation.
Please, I beg you TO CREDIT ARTISTS or they will end up like me. I’m feeling like I’m drawing into void, while others make profit out of my art. pic.twitter.com/XVK79Rrreq
— 🎃йоша 🎃 (@ceruleanwax) November 12, 2017
In her tweet, she included a note pleading with people to credit artists. While she drew the illustration, she wrote, “I am really not feeling like its [sic] mine anymore.” She went on to claim that she has seen her work printed on all kinds of merchandise, but she hasn’t seen a penny from sales. Equally hurtful was the number of people who posted the work pretending to be the illustrator. “Lots of blogs… posted this art without even crediting me. In my own Tumblr it got 40 notes, while I’ve seen posts with 90,000 and more,” she wrote.
Like her illustration, her tweet quickly went viral — but this time, Mestnikova was at the center of it all. Some users apologized for using the drawing without credit; others simply sympathized.
I’m using your art as my header I had no idea I’m so sorry!!! Should I credit you in the picture itself or remove it? I truly apologize
— VON (@xlcac) November 12, 2017
…We’re wondering if we could change the cover and properly credit you for it or we could just change the cover entirely to something else.
We want to apologize that your work wasn’t properly credited or even permitted to use your amazing art without your consent.
— Flamingo Vapor (@Flamingo_Vapor) November 13, 2017
I’m so sorry that’s happening to you. And that drawing is absolutely wonderful.
— Corinne Duyvis (@corinneduyvis) November 12, 2017
I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with such awful mass theft. I saw your art on tumblr a few months ago with no credit and quite obviously a repost. I just saw your content today from someone I follow RTing your work and I’m glad to finally see the artist behind the art-
— たち🐾 (@tachipaws) November 12, 2017
It’s a shame people keep doing this. How many artworks I’ve seen without any credit, or being sold on the internet by users that don’t have the artist’s permission and earn money at their expense
— AngelusBellator (@AngelBellator) November 13, 2017
Many of her fellow artists replied with stories of their own work being used without permission. One said they had always wished they had known who drew Mestnikova’s illustration, but once something is online without credit, it can be almost impossible to trace back to the source.
I’ve always wanted to know who did this, but people would never give the credits. I’m an artist too, currently on hiatus, but I feel you and I’m so sorry… Well, congratulations and thank you, It’s one of my favorite pieces of all time! I send you my love and support~
— He likes it cold (@byrayls) November 12, 2017
im sorry to hear this happened 😭 if i ever encounter your art online i’ll be sure to comment & put you as a source! I know it’s not much but knowing that stuff like these r often almost impossible to avoid, its the least i could do for a fellow artist. Stay strong okay! 💕💓 ✨
— nami @ dead inside (@MuwaDesu) November 12, 2017
Unfortunately, the Internet makes it incredibly easy to pass around artwork without ever knowing who the artist is. For those who make their living off of art, this can make it difficult to make ends meet, which in turn fuels the idea that art is a hobby, not a profession. It’s a frustrating cycle that artists are speaking out against with increasing frequency.
I’m still mad about people that were selling t-shirts of a design I did. They had 15,000 shares on Facebook. I haven’t sold even ONE shirt of that design.
This is what a culture of non-credit does. https://t.co/jNNjqavKrv
— K (@FeatherCritter) November 12, 2017
Yeah, this is relatable in the worst way. There’s a piece of mine that has hundreds of thousands of reblogs without my name. It’s even a censored version (it’s nsfw), which I know was just lifted from deviantart.
My original Tumblr post got zilch. https://t.co/xw8Jjj3K24
— Sarah Amelia Dvojack my initials spell SAD (@sarahdvojack) November 12, 2017
Mestnikova told BuzzFeed that she used to think she was “too protective” of her art, but she now knows that she deserves credit where it’s due. “All of this showed me that events like that with my art are not normal at all,” she said.
The good news is that since her tweet has gone viral, thousands of people now know exactly who drew the famous illustration. It won’t fix the dozens of copies floating around online without Mestnikova’s name attached, but it’s a start.