Artist vs. eBay bootleg artist from China


Paul Richmond is an artist who paints amazing homoerotic paintings as part of his "Cheesecake Boys" series, based on classic pinup girl art from the 1940s and 1950s. In this video, Paul explains how he discovered that an artist from China was making forgeries of his Cheesecake Boys paintings, and the funny way he punk'd the copycat using Nigerian-spammer befuddlement tactics.

Paul Richmond punks Chinese copycat artist


  1. I was enjoying the story, but having to type in an address and read something… meh…

    But I had this issue with eBay when I worked for a software company. The very same listings came up all the time, with the exact same content… but I had to continually ask them to remove one at a time. Grrr.

    And don’t even get me started on PayPal, where I had to go through a *three month* battle to get a refund because they told me a mobile sim card was ‘intangible’. When I demanded they tell me what a sim card was, they told me I should “read a computer book” to find out what a “sims [sic] card” is.

    1. I think the point is that he’s completely out of options and this is about the only retribution he can think of. And plus its funny! I can’t imagine how frustrating this must be for the artist. With that kind of frustration, all the time in the world for a little bit of satisfaction would be well worth it.

      And of course this is in the fine tradition of the scam-baiters who got some Nigerian 419 scammers to perform the Monty Python “Dead Parrot” sketch.

    2. I completely agree with this. I tried to read through the entire saga and all it recalled to me were the same annoying “Look, we showed them by wasting our life!” logic I have seen played out in dozens of other forums.

      You know what one can do if they are being ripped off? Just publicly say it once, provide evidence and then just—if you’re doing it online—provide a link to that info and leave it at that.

      1. Agree at the pettiness of the actions shown here, but isn’t what Richmond is doing essentially a publicity stunt? He’s made a spectacle of the situation and in doing so directed a lot of traffic towards his works. He made Boing Boing, so he’s obviously done something right.

        I’d personally rather he worked on his painting skills than his retribution, but I suppose every artist has to take time out to market their work.

      2. Would you be so cavalier if someone were breaking into your house and stealing stuff from you? And doing it again every single day? Because having someone not only knock off your style but your exact painting and *claiming it as their own* strikes me as exactly the same.

        And no I don’t think I’m overstating things at all. For people who create things, who take years to come up with a style and pursue a niche, the things they create are at least as sacred to them as, I’m guessing, the sanctity of your home is to you.

        1. You are overstating, so get over it.

          If copyright infringement was theft then we would not have 2 bodies of law dealing with theft and copyright in a separate manner.

          People have to contextualize this: in many East Asian countries copying has always been a legitimate way to do business. All this copyright restictions imposed by the West is something new to them, just 10 years ago the concept of Copyright would have been unheard off in countries like China and Vietnam, which are not fully involved into the global markets and the Western impossed copyrigt traties.

          I am sure that the Chinese painter will have a hard time understanding why copying a painting could be considered immoral, unethical or illegal.

        2. It’s “exactly the same” to copy something from a public website and claiming it’s your own work as stealing, not to mention breaking and entering? To me, that doesn’t sound very well thought out .

          Firstly, if someone breaks into my home, I’d fear for my personal safety. If someone copies a picture from my website, I’d still feel pretty safe. Secondly, if someone takes an item from my home, I no longer have it. If someone copies a picture from my website, I still have it.

          Selling these copies under his own name is the indefensible part, but in no way “exactly the same” as having your home broken into.

          If someone copies your work, it means you’re doing something right. And if you’re creative enough to think something up that is copy-worthy, you can probably do it again.

    1. He said the painting was “complimentary” – as in no, he didn’t pay the bootlegger anything. I think his hysterical approach to this whole situation is inspiring.

  2. The reason eBay takes such minimum efforts to police counterfeit goods is because they’ve successfully turned the DMCA into an extortion scheme.

    Indeed, by the time you submit a proper DMCA takedown request through eBay’s channels the auction has oftentimes already sold and money has changed hands, including eBay’s cut. If you are lucky enough to get to it in time, other auctions are already being created or ending. The seller may actually get shut down but there are no barriers to stopping them from making another account, of course. Sucks for those whose art or other goods are being counter-fitted, but not so much for eBay, who makes money either way.

    Oh, and this has already gone to court. Behold Tiffany and CO vs eBay: Yes, the bling bling people. Spoiler warning: Tiffany lost, and eBay is considered in compliance with the law.

    There are many things eBay could do to help this. Stricter account setup rules, more diligent moderation, etc. But why bother when they’re making money either way? So yea, mob/prank justice makes perfect sense to me, if only from a self-therapy standpoint.

  3. The thing that disturbs me here is what isn’t mentioned — the other contents of the MJART (the Chinese knockoff factory) gallery on eBay. Therein is contained a significant collection of art targeting not just the gay market, but the PEDOPHILE market.

    For example:

    It makes me feel sick just to link those.

    But if dude wants eBay to take action, this might be a more effective direction to go at.

  4. The horrible image scaling of all the text, now that’s a real crime. Didn’t he have any friends who are graphic artists?

  5. Wow, there are a lot of cynics here. I thought what he did was funny and inspired. If it were me, I wouldn’t be able to vent my frustration so hilariously. I would just whine about the money that that forger (and eBay) was making by selling copies of my paintings.

  6. I’ve been on feeBay since 1996 and I have to say the plague of scammy sellers selling outright fakes or goods not-as-described is as bad as I have EVER seen it.

    In the last year with the items I have purchased, I would say upwards of 20% were blatantly misrepresented or outright crap (if they even bother to ship it at all). The biggest sellers can sell junk or fakes, over and over again and if the negative feedback they receive because of it is “only” around 10% or less, they keep on selling-the volume of their sales dilutes the complaints. Often it’s the same misleading listing, the same junk, the same outright lies in text in the ad, over and over. You can see it in the seller’s feedback-dozens and dozens of buyers saying the exact same complaint yet NOTHING happens to the seller as long as feeBay gets paid.

    feeBay just wants the profit and will ignore any self regulation unless they are forced to. The so-called deals found there are now pretty much a crap shoot-you might get a good deal or you just might get crap.

    1. I buy and sell on eBay and on Yahoo! Japan Auctions to sate my 1970s action figure fix. And I can honestly say eBay should not be blamed for what is basically cultural issues. On Yahoo! Japan Auctions the listings are very clear, lots of info and even with a language barrier you understand what is happening. And that is because Japanese culture has more respect for the buyer in a transaction than the U.S. does.

      In contrast, U.S. sellers really stink. I’m a decent seller because I provided detailed and accurate listings in a sea of folks basically saying “Here is a blurry picture. Give me money!” I have to thank those bad sellers though. Makes my life as an honest seller much better!

  7. The original artist coulda just posted online a painting of the
    bootleg painter wearing butt-less leather chaps and a Madonna-style bra….
    …with a banner saying “best seller” on it.

  8. Hold on… does “punk’d” mean “getting paid” in Chinese? Because that’s all I really saw happen here.

  9. Is it wrong that I really liked Mr. Cai or am wishing that he will see increased purchases of his work because of this video? He seems as if he is a very friendly Chinese man. After all, what is a little copyright infringement among friends?

  10. I made a website for a local watercolor artist (she actually paid me by giving me one of her work) and she wanted me to put low resolution pictures on the site because she was concerned that people would print her work and hang it on their walls.

    After discussing with her, she agreed that people who buy her paintings would not be interested by printed versions and people who would print her work are not likely to be interested in paying 900-2500$ that she charges for her watercolors.

    Basically the copycats will sell to people who wouldn’t have bought the work in the first place.

    I see that the paintings are sold at around 300$ on eBay, I doubt that Mr. Richmond sells his work near that price. And people who would buy the original (I guess it would go for around 1500$) would not be interested in a Chinese copy.

  11. I’ve had my books copied by Chinese companies and sold through their various agents throughout the US. And it’s a real kick in the balls.

    Creating, printing, distributing, advertising, and selling… all of those things take money. Copying takes almost zero effort by comparison. But there is only one solution that I can think of, and it’s “Buyer Beware.” There’s 1.3 billion people there who want that money at least as much as you the seller do.

    As a conscious consumer do yourself a favor and examine the goods – if it’s coming out of the PRC, think twice about it.

  12. Whats the big deal? The way i see it. In the art world, you are just paying for the signature anyway. People who buy the bootleg painting, don’t get the signature, so they don’t pay the big bucks. (okay, i gotta admit that the Chinese guy not giving any credit to the original artist IS BAD)

    Playing the devils advocate a bit further. There are many paintings by the old masters (like Leonardo da Vinci) that we know only by their copies, as the originals have been destroyed :(
    So copying shouldn’t be a bad thing.

    Actually i would rather have the art world go to their roots, and make their money from commissions, rather than selling ready made paintings. That way if you ask an artist to paint yourself fighting a squidbear with flaming sword, its not like it will even matter if somebody does a copy of it.
    If you are gonna paint a generic paintings that could hang on anybody’s wall, of course you will suffer if somebody copies them. Paint something special for each of your customers, and it will not matter if somebody copies them.. Well thats how i look at it :)

  13. I’d perhaps feel more sympathetic if the guy’s art, particularly the cheesecake stuff, were not itself pretty blatantly derivative (and IMO not very good, but that’s beside the point). Anon mentioned Elvgren, and Tom of Finland comes to mind.

    This is fine. Art is inherently derivative. But authenticity/publicity will still sell Richmond’s painting for far more than his other “originals,” which themselves are going for $1800-$2500, six times what Cai Jiang Xun charges for a copy. Not to defend blatant rip-offs, but they will obviously happen. The best approach for pop artists like Richmond might well be that taken by Bollywood: get your own cheap reproductions out there before the next guy does. There’s obviously a market for cheap oil paintings of his work; instead of wasting weeks trying to “punk” a guy who’s turning out thousands of paintings a year, maybe Richmond had better start painting faster.

  14. The cheap reproductions from Chinese painting villages have been around for years. I represent an artist whose work also showed up in this eBay store but it doesn’t appear to affect our sales either in the US or in China to serious collectors. It was once thought flattering to be imitated but on this scale it’s just a nuisance. I don’t imagine it can be stopped, no doubt Paul realized the same and decided to have some fun with it. Bravo!

  15. I have to say: Paul Richmond just comes across as an unbelievable brat in this. He does spend a lot of time trying to “get back” at a guy who, as far as we can tell, isn’t harming Paul’s profession, reputation, or business in any way. Selling cheap(ish) prints is NOT Paul’s profession, and frankly, I’m surprised he didn’t simply ask for a fair cut of profits, just to see what the response would be.

    The Chinese guy, Cai, came across as pretty friendly and fair-minded. Let’s face it, between the two of them, Paul’s life and career and social status are bounds beyond Cai’s. To pick on some little guy trying for trying to make a buck while stuck in China (which is not exactly exploding with legal, Western-style economic possibilities), is just bullyish. To be able to support yourself AND others with the work you produce, as an artist, seems like a fantastic legacy to leave behind in a world where most artists can’t even feed themselves. Hating that anyone – ANYONE – else is profiting off of your work (not your labors, as the rip-offers are laboring to figure out a successful way to make money, setting it up, testing it, managing it, etc, which is arguably a hell of a lot less work than the original artist ever did) is childish. And plain mean-spirited to boot.

  16. Are you guys watching the same video as me? I can’t imagine how anyone could come away from this siding with the bootlegger or dismissing the artist as petty. Boing Boing commenters make me lose my faith in humanity.

  17. I agree with Anon. How can anyone blame the victim here. The bootlegger willingly signed copyright forms to “protect” intellectual property that he KNEW he did not own and also he plastered *HIS* watermark on the images he has on eBay. He understands the concept of not wanting to be “stolen” from and he had to be aware of what he was doing to the original artist and yet he kept on and kept on.

    He deserved what he got and I applaud the victimized artist for going to the effort. It may have been a waste of time in some respects but it helped expose eBay’s useless policies against bootlegging and it was very amusing as well!

  18. If I were to find someone else selling my art, I would want that person to suffer as well.

    Mind you I probably wouldn’t be able to think of something as maniaclly clever as this. :D

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