By Ange Theonastine Ashimwe

Imagine you are a scriptwriter, and you work is being played in theatre. Let’s pretend you are at the theatre watching everyone interact with your work, love it, consume it, relate to it;  – but there’s a catch – you name is not mentioned anywhere. You keep hearing praise of people adoring your piece, but since your name was not mentioned, they have no one to give you props. Here’s another kicker – the company using your script stole it while you were pitching the idea, and they said they didn’t like it; that you were ‘inexperienced, incomplete, unknown’. Wouldn’t it be frustrating as the creator not to be credited and paid for something you have taken the time, love, energy, and creativity to make? One wonders.

I love Twitter. There is always another post pushing us to have conversations around things we are skipping, ignoring or overlooking. Artists raised this very issue on Twitter about people who use their work to make money without seeking consent from them without crediting them. You may be surprised to read some of the replies, people found the audacity to say, “YOU SHOULD BE PROUD THAT PEOPLE LOVE YOUR ART.” 

That is bullshit.

Being proud alone doesn’t attract referrals, being proud alone doesn’t put food on the table, being proud alone doesn’t pay the bills, and oh, artists have bills to pay too just like anybody else. Wait, how can you be proud of not being acknowledged for your effort, time, and creativity?

This is just bullshit. I’m not sorry for saying so.

You would want to use people’s skills, their creative imagination, their knowledge, and their effort for free to promote yourself as the owner of their art? Who are you?

In Rwanda, every time an artist raises complaints about people using their work without crediting them or even seeking approval, members of the public usher them to stop those nonsense that they should be grateful that people even see their work.

Why isn’t it common in Rwanda to understand that art theft is wrong just as stealing is wrong? Period! Taking the bare bones or the whole composition of a piece of art and using it as your own is blatantly cruel and self centered. 

The College for Arts and Technology definition of Art theft is on point. “Art theft is the “obvious” stealing of artwork and publishing it as your own masterpiece. Without seeking consent from or giving credit to the source, the act is the claim or ownership of the stolen piece.

This problem is crucial; these thieves are out there scrolling the web 24/7 looking for something they can rip-off, and the sad truth the very same people who should be promoting art are the one who don’t get that it is a disgusting practice that is not tantamount to theft – this is theft. Copyrights do not save you as an artist, as soon as someone steals you work and share it as theirs, another one steals it and share it as theirs, it becomes a viciously murky circle until your work loses its origin altogether. You don’t know who to report, your art becomes a community object; out there to be used. People start making money out of your effort, and it hurts. It hurts us. It hurts me. 

Creativity makes artists stand out and everybody is trying to do the same thing. If you like their masterpieces, you should invest in them, buy from them, and share their work as theirs not your own. Get your own mind. 

Fuck these thieves.

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