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Flash Bootlegging

Tattooing's Dirty Little Secret

by ccflash

March 31, 2005

Bootleg flash has been a back-door problem in the tattoo industry for decades. Many artists and shop owners have been copying and trading flash sets ever since color copiers were invented. This type of "bootlegging" was pretty common and pretty much accepted -- just making a copy or two for a few friends. Yes, it was illegal. Yes, it hurt the artists who created the art that these "friends" traded instead of bought. But it was a minor loss, at least compared to the "traveling bootleggers" soon to come on the scene.

Eventually, the more ethically-challenged within our industry graduated to turning bootleg tattoo flash into a full-blown business. With a trunkload of illegal flash sets from dozens of tattooists and flash artists, they sold their stolen goods door-to-door at shops all across the country. Unfortunately, all too many otherwise professional studios couldn't pass up the opportunity to save a few bucks by buying pirated sets -- choosing to line the pockets of thieves rather than buy from legitimate flash artists who line the tattoo studio's pockets with profits. And what did they save by buying from pirates? Maybe the price of a single minimum-priced tattoo, if even that much. But the loss suffered by flash artists due to these "traveling thieves" wasn't even a drop in the ocean compared to what was to come next.
Welcome to the world of eBay, the cyber-marketplace of the web-world! Unfortunately, it is the "black-marketplace" of the web-world as well -- a white-washed pawn shop for fencing stolen goods.
It all began over 6 years ago when a high-tech lowlife scanned the life's work of dozens of the tattoo industry's best known artists into his computer. Thousands of sheets of popular flash were burnt onto CDs and began showing up on eBay. These CDs were sold for as little a $2.99 each. But this was just the beginning...

Since then, these illegal CDs have been copied, hacked, modified, added to and resold by hundreds upon hundreds of other eBay sellers. The contents of these bootleg CDs have also been used to create those so-called "free flash" pages on websites, contributing to the creation of even more illegal CDs produced by downloading images from these unauthorized sites and creating new "collections" of stolen art.

In fairness to many sellers of these CDs, they are genuinely ignorant of both the tattoo industry and copyright law. Additionally, most illegally scanned flash sheets have had their artists' names, logos, and copyright information digitally removed, making it appear that all these great tattoo designs are indeed just free for the taking -- and selling.

Unlike the humble beginnings of bootlegging when the circulation of a few unauthorized copies were really little more than a nuisance, today's digital bootlegging has evolved into a massive financial crisis for legitimate flash artists. It has thoroughly infected the tattoo industry and has spread like a terminal cancer. And it's not just here in the United States. eBay maintains separate auctions sites in over 20 countries throughout Europe, the Far East, South America, Australia and Canada -- and these bootleg CDs are everywhere.

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