Booming Chinese art forging business hurts U.S. artists

(CBS News) SHENZHEN, China -- New Jersey artist Clinton Hobart discovered counterfeits of his painting "Three Persimmons" were for sale on a website based in China.

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Clinton Hobart discovered counterfeits of his painting "Three Persimmons" were for sale on a website based in China.
CBS News
"In a gallery, this would sell for about $450 unframed to $500 framed," Hobart says.

But the counterfeit online is $23.99.

"No artist wants to find that someone is taking their stuff and is passing it off as their own," he says.

Hobart's angry emails to the site went unanswered, so CBS News ordered five copies of the painting to find out who was behind the knockoffs.

"It's crippling," Hobart says. "This is it, this is my income. So for them to be selling hundreds of these, they're directly taking money out of my pocket."

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Clinton Hobart
CBS News
The return address pointed to Nanjing, China. According to the PayPal receipt, a man named "You Qi" received our online payment. We found him, set up a meeting and secretly videotaped it.

He told us there was good money to be made selling copied art online and that he doesn’t worry about copyright when he sells the paintings.

"The person who bought them should technically be responsible for copyright issues," he said.

Then we told him who we were. We said we had purchased a painting on a website oilpaintingsstore.com and that the money had gone to him.

He claimed he'd never heard of the website or received payment that would have gone through his email.

You Qi said we should go to Dafen Village, the largest mass producer of oil paintings in the world. Fifteen thousand workers churn out $600 million worth of oil paintings a year. The majority are knockoffs. American hotel and retail chains are among its biggest customers.

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Dafen Village is the largest mass producer of oil paintings in the world.
CBS News
Under Chinese law, artists are only allowed to copy the works of other artists dead for more than 50 years, but CBS News commissioned four replicas of Hobart's painting for less than $40 each.

U.S. law enforcement tells artists like Clinton Hobart there's little they can do unless they hire copyright attorneys.

"It takes so much money, you need to be so big in order to stop them, and they know it," Hobart says.

He plans to watermark images of his paintings online, if only to make his counterfeiters' jobs a little harder.