According to Wallpart's Facebook Page it is "the world’s largest online shop of posters and wall decor, with over 10 billion images including posters, prints and wall decals." 10 billion. It must have been one hell of an admin team to contact artists to license printing rights for 10 billion images.
Or, it could just steal them.
We were contacted by Pixel Bomb Games, a developer based out in Manchester, who had found that a lot of the images from its site were on sale on a site called Wallpart. A quick search reveals screenshots, concept art, even images of the team for sale, all of this without Wallpart having ever been in touch to ask permission.
The third image is of Marina Ortega, Pixel Bomb's concept artist, and was pulled from the team's home page.
"This is the first time we've come across anything like this as a studio," Pixel Bomb's concept artist Marina Ortega told me in an email. "I found my artwork for the Rebel Mech and UGR Mech in Beyond Flesh and Blood for sale there without my permission, and several artists I know warned me about it. Then when we searched again to confirm and collect evidence, and the results disappeared, as if the search had swapped browser history or something."
"It's been very odd," Jane McConell, the team's PR manager told me. "We did searches on the site and found all of our studio's work and then a photo of Marina, which was creepily nabbed from the team's homepage."
From Wallpart's home page you can enter terms into a little search bar that offers to autocomplete as you type. Hitting enter loads a page with a string of images. From there you can select an image, pick a size, and order a print.
Clearly, Wallpart is using a search engine to trawl the internet for poster images on demand. When you order a print it simply downloads the image and sends it to a printer, charging you but giving nothing to the owner of the image.
Wallpart doesn't explicitly deny this but it doesn't claim responsibility either. On its About Us page it writes (sic):
WallPart Respect the copyright of others.
This means we don't steal photos or images that other people have shared and pass them off as your own.
We have no base of images, and doesn't host and store the image on servers.
Wallpart.com only helps the user to find the images interesting him, the site uses data of the most known third-party search engines.
Process of search happens at user's browser.
The user himself makes search queries, all content displayed in a window of the browser is received from third-party search engines.
The displayed images are loaded from third-party servers, and aren't host on the site hosting.
When the user make the order, we get the image from the user, he is responsibility for use.
Wallpart.com doesn't bear responsibility for the images received from users.
So, if you visit Wallpart and use the search bar it provides to find an image, then use their tools to select the size you want, and then pay them to print it and post it to you, they claim it's you who are breaking copyright.
It's worth pointing out, there's no other method of submitting an image to Wallpart to print other than this search bar.
To realise how creepy this is you can try and find yourself. Here's the image we posted on my first day at Kotaku:
Though, at least Wallpart has the decency to envision how much of a mistake it would be to hang it on your wall:
Try searching your name, or your company's name, or really anything you want. It gets mega, mega creepy.
Clearly this is all violating copyright but it gets weirder still.
On the site's Contact page Wallpart says it has a shop "just around the corner from Newtown station". Specifically at 921 Kings St, Newhouse. There's a Newtown Station in New South Wales in Australia, it's on Kings St, too. But Kings St only goes as high as no. 681.
Wallpart lists a phone number–2300 751 017–but it doesn't connect. It also has a contact form which I've emailed, but I'll be surprised if it goes anywhere.
If you search the Whois data for the wallpart.com domain name you can find it was originally registered in February 2014 but then in March 2015 it was reregistered and all its major details were anonymised. However, you can still access the old information. The domain was registered by a Sergo Zuikov living in Moscow. There's an email and a phone number.
When I rang that number it did connect. However, after a brief spell on hold, the Russian woman I spoke to didn't understand me, so couldn't answer my questions about Zuikov.
The site also has a Twitter feed which is just bizarre (and totally not safe for work).
It looks like the whole thing is automated and takes things people have searched for on Wallpart and then tweets them out as images. So, you get odd results like this:
And also this:
You also get a shitload of porn and creepshots of celebrities.
Clearly Wallpart is shady. It is stealing not only artists' images but our own and trying to sell them as posters. Even if people aren't buying them someone you didn't give permission to is trying to strip them from our websites and pass them off as their own.
Well, Pixel Bomb and thousands of other artists have had enough. "It’s clear that they are just thieves, stealing artwork or even just half-decent Google images that can be sold as 'posters'," Ortega tells me. "This site must be closed down and these people should get fined."
"If we continue to see out work there, it's a breach of copyright and we'll be preparing legal action," McConnell says. "Games artists' work can be shared but never exploited."
They're not alone. More than 8,500 people have signed a petition to raise awareness of what Wallpart is doing. There's complaints popping up on Reddit, SiteJabber, Deviant Art and in replies to its tweets. People are getting pissed off.
Pixel Bomb suspect that Wallpart's owners have started tracking IPs to see who has visited the petition and then limits their searches on Wallpart's site. I'm not sure this is the case. I found it was difficult to replicate their results, largely because the site's search is so unstable that it's difficult to get the same search results twice. One time a search would return more than a hundred pages of results, a moment later it would return none, then later still it would return ten.
Pixel Bomb doesn't currently sell posters of its artwork but McConell says the studio will open a store in September with the launch of Beyond Flesh and Blood, where it will sell prints and art books. Also, "to prove a point against the fact that cheaters never prosper, the first 20 people to email us after reading this, who can show they've signed the petition, at email@example.com, if they don't mind sending a snail mail address, can have a free signed A4 print from our own Beyond Flesh and Blood collection."
One final thing to note, despite the site having a little counter at the top saying it has had 3,614 happy customers, that's a static image. I can't tell if anyone has ever bought anything from this site or if they ever received it.
Now, go and see if it's pulled an image of you from your friends' Facebook.