Sarkeesian's Stolen FanArt Fail

Anita Sarkeesian, founder of Feminist Frequency and the Tropes vs. Women videos, faces charges of stolen FanArt and unsourced Let's Play videos.

When I spoke to my husband about writing this article, he asked "Are you even capable of writing something bad about Anita Sarkeesian?" The answer? Not easily. Anita Sarkeesian (and Felicia Day) has been one of my role models in both the gaming and academic communities, truly embodying what I believe it means to be a public intellectual. However, since I hold her in the highest respect, it also means that I hold her to the highest principles. 

Today, I happened across this article from artist Tamara Smith detailing the theft of her art in the Tropes Vs. Women logo. According to Smith in her open letter to Anita Sarkeesian,

"Financial and legal complications aside, I hope you [Anita Sarkeesian] understand that you’ve taken away my personal voice and ownership as a fellow content creator. Without my permission or knowledge, you’ve taken my work out of context to use for your own agenda, leaving me no control over how my work is seen or used."

In support of these claims, blogger Viscor compiled an image showing the Tropes vs. Women promotional image with Tamara Smith's original artwork overlaid. 

The image makes clear that the Tamara's picture of Princess Daphne has been appropriated and modified, without consent, for the Tropes vs. Women logo. 

 Let's face it - copyright law is confusing and weird, especially when it comes to FanArt

Since Sarkeesian claims to be using the images under "Fair Use" then her use of Tamara Smith's image could be 100% legal. Currently Smith is simply asking Sarkeesian to prove that Feminist Frequency is legitimately a non-profit. 

However, let's throw legal implications to the side for a moment, and consider the impact this has on Sarkeesian's overall message and goals. On the "About" page of Feminist Frequency, Sarkeesian is defined as a media critic exploring sterotypes of women in popular culture and and advocate of "issues surrounding the targeted harassment of women in online and gaming spaces."

As a person who has undergone quite a bit of harassment herself, Sarkeesian has been outspoken about harassment in her many appearances and interviews. Harassment comes in more flavors than outright threats and sexually demeaning comments. For a successful woman to refuse to at least acknowledge the source of an image can be seen as a form of harassment. While it may not necessarily be a gendered form of harassment, it is harassment nonetheless. 

For a successful woman to refuse to at least acknowledge the source of an image can be seen as a form of harassment
Supporting women against harassment means respectfully engaging in dialogue with them when they take issue with you. 

Sarkeesian's refusal to address this issue despite many attempts by Tamara Smith and others to amicably resolve the situation, undermines her message and gives fodder to the trolls just waiting for her to slip up. Sarkeesian's deconstructions of women in video games has been met with an astonishing amount of vitriol - what will her detractors do now that she's actually made a mistake?

The FanArt swipe, and accusations of unsourced Let's Play videos also call into question exactly where  the $158,922 raised for the series went. One major criticism of Kickstarter is the inability of supporters to see exactly where their money is going, With the large sum of money Sarkeesian gained, it's tough not to wonder how there wasn't enough money in the budget to respectfully pay for this image. 

Irony is too small a word to describe this situation.

As someone who supported the Tropes vs. Women Kickstarter, and truly appreciates all of the work Sarkeesian has done in the past few years, I'm taking this like an arrow to the knee: it came out of nowhere and I'm still reeling from the implications. 

That said, my initial feeling is regret regret for the retribution this might bring to both Sarkeesian and the many women working to make gaming a safer place for women. There are so few public female figures in gaming, that what blemishes one often blemishes us all.

Ideally, I hope that Sarkeesian and Smith can publicly resolve this in a way that strengthens the community as a whole. At this point though, I would simply accept any explanation as long as it came quickly and honestly. 

Editor's Note: The author of this article has written a follow-up article about the resolution of this, which can be found here.

Published Mar. 7th 2014
View Comments
  • Ray_7590
    She made a mistake? As in one mistake? Anita Sarkeesian has been making mistakes since the Tropes vs Women in Video Games series came out like her borrowing Let's Play videos without crediting them like mentioned. There's also the time she approved of a fan fiction where Randy Pitchford was killed, which is hypocritical from her, seeing as her receives harassments. Her support for segregation, se her Bayonetta video, which her deleted (but still surfacing elsewhere), which is poorly researched just like some of her videos. It seems Ms Sarkeesian keeps tripping herself up. While I'm not going to be jumping for joy if she eventually brings her own downfall, I'm not exactly going to give much sympathy.
  • Seth Berrier
    Let's give her the benefit of the doubt. I think it is much more likely that she confused this image for an asset belonging to the original game and therefore did not know that credit was due. Everything else in the logo is assumed to be that as well. You don't have to assume it was done intentionally or that she won't correct the issue. It may be careless, it is certainly a mistake but even heroes make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes and the best people find ways to respond to and correct them whenever they can.

    Sarkeesian has a pretty intense firewall up against harassment right now (rightfully so) and getting a genuine message like this through that filter is going to take time and energy. Give her a chance before you conclude that she has willfully neglected to attribute this artwork to its owner or that she does not intend to atone for the mistake.

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