Artist accused of copying photos

By Elizabeth Binning

When Richard Spranger photographed pohutukawa flowers near Kawakawa Bay he never dreamed the image would end up for sale on the internet - under someone else’s name.

The Auckland photographer is one of several artists whose work has appeared on the TradeMe website in the past six months under the name of Peter Vink.

The Vink works, in the form of paintings, have been advertised as original artworks and sell for up to $3300 each.

Spranger said he was contacted by the group Scambusters which had become suspicious about the number of Vink works offered.

Since December he had generated 80 paintings, to the value of $115,000.

When a painting closely resembling Spranger’s photograph came up for sale he contacted TradeMe.

TradeMe business manager Michael O’Donnell said Vink was asked to provide proof it was his work but could not do so.

As a result he has been banned from trading on the site for alleged breaches of copyright. Two other art traders, known as Chelsea Finn and Artastic, have been banned for similar reasons.

Scambusters spokeswoman Katharine Moody said many Vink works were purported to show places in New Zealand but that was not always the case.

A painting allegedly showing Welcome Bay near Tauranga has since been revealed as a copy of a photograph taken in North America.

Ms Moody said Scambusters had been contacted by four photographers, three from overseas, who claim Vink copied their work.

The group believe thousands of New Zealanders have bought works by Vink, thinking they were originals or of local scenes when they were not.

This week chat rooms have been buzzing about Vink and his work and what constituted copyright breaches.

Copyright expert Carmen Vietri, from Copyright Licensing Ltd, said it did not matter what form the art took or how they were copied.

If the paintings were identical or substantially similar to the photographs, Vink would be in breach of copyright if he didn’t have permission from the original artist to reproduce it.

In an email sent to the Herald on Vink’s behalf, his sister Yvette said:

"Painting from photographs is acceptable practice - as soon as you paint from a photo [it] is your own interpretation therefore [there is] no copyright infringement."

She did not respond to a question asking if the buyers knew his work was actually a painting of someone else’s photograph.

Instead she said: "Peter takes many of the photos himself and sources others on the internet."

On his website Vink, who says he is overseas, defended his work.

He said he had been victimised by a group of "artists whose work wasn’t selling" and had received "hatemail, email viruses, obscene phone calls, threats of violence and even dead animals left on my doorstep."

"I have handed the information over to the police who are investigating the matter."

The Commerce Commission has received three complaints about alleged breaches of copyright but is still deciding if there are grounds to investigate.

A police spokesman said he was not aware of any complaints about Vink’s work but the matter would be looked into if a complaint was made.

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