• Burn, baby burn: Dumpster Fire (Legal) Inferno!

    Last year, my creativity took a major hit. 

    With the combination of a major house project (siding! windows! doors! oh my...), prepping for teaching and doing a bunch of things at Craftcation (an amazing creative conference that I've gone to since 2016), the first quarter of 2023 was A LOT.

    You'd think just those things would be enough, but nooo. I experienced something else that completely threw my creativity off course.

    And it started with a prolific D&D YouTuber. 


    Other than talking about this with close family and friends, and an update to last year's Kickstarter project backers, I haven't actually mentioned this ordeal publicly. Soooo sorrynotsorry it's a bit long. 

    Maybe I should start a Substack, ha!

    Ok, ok, now actual storytime.

    I got a message from my DM (that's Dungeon Master for you non-nerds 🤓) that included a screenshot asking me if the illustration being used in this YouTuber's thumbnail was mine.

    YouTube Thumbnail of my Dumpster Fire illustration
    Note: "D&D" was added to the illustration.

    It was my Dumpster Fire illustration. 

    Like 100% MINE.

    Not modified, not altered (other than adding the "D&D" text). 

    It was also all over this YouTuber's social media thumbnails, blog, etc. 

    They were even getting comments on social media about the choice of a dumpster fire illustration in their graphics, as real talk: it was actually very fitting, given the topic of the video (background: the company that created D&D were turning their IP and access to D&D IP into a dumpster fire, so I thought it was fitting, despite the situation).


    I was shocked. I was mad.

    And instead of sending an angry email or DM, I opted to take some deep breaths, and walk away from my computer. 

    This YouTuber is a creator as well. They don't just film videos and call it good- they embody the identity of a creator with cosplay, creative ways to play D&D, and more. So while I was still pissed, I wanted to give this person the benefit of the doubt. 

    So after a few hours of trying to CTFD and talking it through with my husband, I sent this YouTuber an email. And I did it with the tone of more of a misunderstanding than an accusation. I also asked where they found the illustration that gave them the impression that it was ok to use. 

    I also asked for crediting, as I figured that would be less of a pain to do than change up all the graphics (plus I felt like this was my way of making lemonade out of hello potential website traffic boost, right?).

    Immediately, this person responded (which I was super impressed, as I bet they get a GAZILLION emails all the time), and they were horrified to find that this illustration was not for fair use. They offered to remove it immediately, and they said they found the illustration...

    On CANVA.


    For those not in the know, Canva is a design platform, well, for non-designers.

    Don't get me wrong, it's helped non-designers do some really cool things without having to figure out how to design, so in a way, it's helping reduce bad design out in the world. 

    I have a reluctant Pro account, as sometimes it IS faster than InDesign or Illustrator, and their slide deck templates have way more options than Powerpoint or Keynote combined.


    Canva only allows a handful of trusted creators to upload templates, graphics, illustrations, etc. for use for Free and/or Pro accounts. I was under the impression that these trusted creators actually, you know created their stuff to add to Canva for others to use.

    To discover that someone that Canva trusted-- uploaded my illustration as part of their graphics portfolio for others to use without my knowledge or consent-- was crushing.

    I know, I know, I'm not the first person to have their work stolen. Far from it.

    Since creating the illustration, plenty of people have DMed me after first sharing the dumpster fire illustration asking if another person was using my dumpster fire. In every case but this one, they weren't using my illustration. Many artists opted to do their own take on it because it was very fitting for 2020.

    Taking action

    I contacted an intellectual property attorney who specializes in IP infringement of artists, and while I could have had a case...

    My illustration was not copyrighted in the US. 


    When I first started illustrating, I took a course on leveraging your art onto products (it's Stacie Bloomfield's Leverage Your Art course and it's wonderful!). This course has a module on copyright and protecting your work.

    I then filed copyrights for 10 of my best unpublished designs...

    ...and then didn't copyright anything else up until this point. 

    Why, you might ask?

    It's EXPENSIVE! For works that are already published (like the Dumpster Fire), it would be $65 for the ONE illustration. 

    For works that are not published (as in, I haven't put them on products or made reproductions for sale), I can register 10 works for $85. 

    That adds up. 

    But the ultimate, deep down reason why I didn't register the copyright of my Dumpster Fire? 

    I didn't think it was special enough. 

    Many artists were doing their take on the Dumpster Fire. I was not the person to come up with the concept. In fact, I was inspired by this toy that debuted at Comic Con in 2019

    But the Universe opted to use this situation as a big 'ol learning lesson for me.

    Not only was my illustration on Canva for use for Pro users (which technically means that you can use it BUT you cannot use it on products for sale, but any use still sucked), I discovered it was used EVERYWHERE.


    Screenshot of Redbubble website product page of two people in t-shirts with my dummpster fire on them
    Ew, and not even a good use of the illo!



    UGH, Canva designers, whyyy?


    Some German t-shirt website. 

    And Etsy. SO, so many listings on Etsy.

    Etsy, aka IP Violation Central

    Seeing MY illustration- 

    the one I created while I was still in chemo treatment,

    in the midst of a pandemic,

    while trying to work,

    and navigate remote learning with my kids,

    on products that were not mine and I was making $0 from said products...

    It really hit home that yes, it is special. 

    Because it is mine. 

    No one else could have drawn this lovely dumpster fire in the way that I did. 

    So after filing the copyright, getting the registration approved, I went on a DMCA-takedown-rage-binge and got all the things taken down, which included Canva, of course, and 181 Etsy listings. 

    Yes, 181 Etsy listings. Sigh.

    I then had all the emotions to process (as well as the head trash that needed taking out).

    Other than the paintings for the Kickstarter project, I didn't really draw or create anything new for six months

    That's like cutting off a major limb to me.

    But it was the Kickstarter project last year that helped anchor me to my own creativity. My backers helped me realize my work was special. And that was an outcome I would have never expected when starting that project. 

    It's another reason I'm doing a similar project this year.

    Moving forward

    Guess who copyrights (most) of her work and has had to work that into her art-making workflow now?

    Yep. You guessed it.  

    Lesson learned, Universe.

    Lesson learned.

    I sent that YouTuber a Dumpster Fire sticker and a few other stickers I thought they might like. They were so nice, so helpful, and I appreciate everything they did (and yes, they did credit me in all their things where they used my illo). 

    Check out the officially copyrighted Dumpster Fire collection here:

    Holly Marsh
    Holly Marsh

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