Artist vs Big Giant Company (with a happy ending)

2019-07-16T17:03:48-06:00Everything Else|1 Comment

If you follow a bunch of other artists and crafters on social media like I do, you will have seen stories about big giant companies (like Target and Anthropologie) using artists’ work without their permission. I have a friend who this happened to and it’s rotten. (I think hers had an ok resolution, but she isn’t allowed to talk about it.) My story is a little different and it starts with a video game.

You may or may not be a fan of video games. For the most part, I am not, although I love board games. Recently, a company called Niantic came out with a phone based game inspired by the Harry Potter Universe. It’s called Wizards Unite. In the game, you are a wizard helping to capture some magical creatures set loose in the real world and you find them by walking around and looking for them with your phone. If this sounds familiar, this game is based on the same platform as PokemonGo, which was all the rage just a few years ago. Like I said, I am not in to video games, but I am on board with anything Harry Potter inspired so I had to check it out. My husband and I have a fun time walking the dogs after dinner and exploring our local park for signs of magical beasts. There are lots of fire breathing chickens and baby hippogryphs there, in case you were wondering.

In the game there are “Greenhouses”, which are tied to geographic elements in the real world like a piece of public art, a neighborhood sign “Welcome to Northeast Park” or a sculpture or statue. They are spots to get a little spell energy or harvest potion ingredients.

On site installation of utility box wrap art.

In 2016, I proposed and got a grant to design three public art pieces for a neighborhood in Minneapolis. I collected photos from the neighborhood, assembled collages of those photos and covered three large utility boxes. Each one was everyday scenes made up of photos of everyday objects. You can read more about the whole project and see more photos here.  Dandy the dog is made from photos of dandelions, coffee cup lids, pennies and has a rosebud for a tongue. I even made a kids book to accompany the public art pieces.

On my way walking to a meeting in that neighborhood, I pulled out my phone to see what was around and to my complete delight, one of my utility box art installations was a Greenhouse! That’s a picture of it in that little pentagon shape. My art was in the Harry Potter game!

This might seem like a silly thing to be excited about. But for an artist, getting people to notice your stuff is a monumental task. It’s hard. A game that encourages people to walk over and look at this piece is brilliant. And it’s been there for almost 3 years now; I was afraid it was going to just start becoming part of the background noise and no one would notice it anymore. So I am thrilled.

The name of the Greenhouse is the title of the piece, Look Both Ways. This set of boxes has a bike on one side and a cat and a traffic light on the other. Next to the title, you can see an “i” in the circle next to the title, and you can tap on that to see more about the piece.

There it is! A nice photo of my piece and my name….. um… sort of. Yes, that says “Becks ran 2016“. I was heartbroken.

How did this happen? Niantic has a whole process that lets anyone submit a location to be added to the game. I have to guess that some enthusiastic Pokemon player thought this would be a great spot and submitted it. It’s right near a light rail station. It’s a great spot. They just couldn’t remember how to spell my name.

My first reaction was to think: huge company will not care if my name is on it or not. I will have to just live with it and there goes the blog post I was going to write, because it’s just too sad.

But then I snapped out of the pity party and thought if I don’t ask, no one else is going to. So I started by sending them a tweet. Nobody answered. So after a few days I got on the website and looked for a way to submit a correction. I found a form but it was about deleting a location completely, which isn’t what I wanted to do. So I sent an email through a contact form.

They auto-responded with a link to that same “delete a location” link. I was a little worried that they would just delete it if I reported anything, but I filled out the form. I looked up the latitude and longitude (thanks Google Maps). I tried to explain that I didn’t want it deleted, just to fix a typo. I sent a photo so they could see the piece in the game and my name printed right on it. I submitted a business card as requested. I crossed my fingers.

They auto-responded again:

Thanks for taking the time to write in. In order to proceed with your request, you must be the Mayor, a senior level city official, or the Director of this site. If you haven’t already, please send one of the following items to ensure that we can process your request without any delays:

– Attach a scanned copy of your business card.
– Attach a letter written on official letterhead of the organization.
– Submit the request using an email address from the organization’s domain.

We take extra verification steps to ensure that this request is on behalf of the Parks Department and appreciate you taking the time to provide us with these materials. If you are not the Mayor, a senior level city official, or the Director of this site, please have them submit a request.

At this point, I figured I was doomed. This piece doesn’t have anything to do with the Parks Department and I am pretty much 100% certain that the Mayor of Minneapolis wasn’t going to write a letter on my behalf.

So I tried again. I wrote back and explained that I was just an artist trying to get appropriate credit for my work. I offered to have the neighborhood association who commissioned me to do the piece write a letter to them. I asked if there was anything else I could do.

And then I met Steve. An actual human emailed me back this time. He said he had reviewed my request and made the necessary adjustments. Wait, really?

Yes, really. It took a couple of weeks for the update to work its way through, but I was in the neighborhood again today, my wizard stopped in her favorite Greenhouse and look what she saw:

I’m delighted. Probably only 1% of people actually tap on that little “i” icon and see that name, but I know that it’s there. (and now you do too.)

Persistence and patience paid off. And once I got to speak to a human, he understood the situation and he helped make it right. Thanks Steve.

So I am going to throw some muggle money at the app later tonight and get myself some Ravenclaw swag. It’s a free app to play, but it didn’t get made for free. (I’m married to a software developer and I know they work hard.) I enjoyed the game before and I enjoy it even more now that I know they aren’t a big company ignoring an artist. They didn’t have to have that little info box in the game, but they do and that means something to me. So this one has a happy ending.

My wizard in the game is named Prestidigitatia; email/DM me and I will send you my friend code if you want to be game friends. Maybe we can fight off a Dementor together someday.

One Comment

  1. Mely Rahn July 16, 2019 at 5:10 pm

    What a cool story – and experience for you! I remember that box from our walk around the neighborhood a few years back!

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