Note: All of the information shared in this post was posted publicly online and is speculative in nature, it is neither libel nor slander to republish publicly posted information, many items have since been deleted online and so screenshots to all referenced quotes are linked for further research. All the photos and screenshots have been archived in Dropbox and can be viewed here, more documentation may be added as it is received. You are encouraged to think critically, investigate the facts, form your own unbiased opinions, then decide if you need to take action. OMHG has been a happy place of handmade goodness for many years but is also committed to ethical inquiry and asking important questions not only about the creative industry but about the world we are making together while presenting facts so our community can calmly make informed decisions about what to do. If you think you have witnessed or been a victim of online crime please scroll down to learn how you can report it!
We live in times where our every move is open to questioning. Our public and professional lives are exposed to constant scrutiny from our peers and even 140 characters can blow up and escalate from a thoughtless Tweet into a public inquiry in a few hours. Jobs, careers, reputations, and even personal safety can be gone in single day. Just like in small town justice in the court of public opinion judgement is delivered swiftly and often ruthlessly. Simple conversations and concerns escalate into full on conflicts with sides being chosen and gauntlets tossed down at the first sign of a different opinion. Outrage can quickly flare up both for and against, quite often people get defensive, make personal attacks, real conversation or listening gets harder and instead of working towards either common understanding or solutions we can end up missing the bigger picture. This gives the public a profound power that we don’t always use wisely. Too often the creative industry advises us to resolve conflict privately, ‘focus on the positive and avoid the negative’, just be nice, and don’t ask too many questions so as to keep everything pleasant and polite. However just like in a real community there are times when injustice or integrity call us to question the stories we’re being told and those discussions need to happen publicly so voices can be heard and understanding reached. Questioning is a foundation of a true democracy and a real community where people are confident in sharing their thoughts. Often things are already public when we come across them and instead of looking away we can choose to do some homework and share the facts as honestly as possible. Underneath most conflict is often a more complicated story that a little digging can start to reveal.
This week one of those complicated stories surfaced within the creative community when jewelery designer Rachel Stewart came across an image of a product called ‘The Hanging Tree’ represented by a noose and solitary tree, as seen here.
When Rachel asked on Facebook about the meaning behind the use of a noose in the graphic, this was the response from ‘Seasalt & Co’. When you’ve seen an image that represents something terrifying and your valid questions are dismissed most people don’t try to resolve things privately, they get upset. And tell their friends. Which is exactly what Rachel did, telling all seven thousand of her Twitter followers exactly what she saw and how she was responded to. The rest is nearly history in online-time, going from a few Google hits to thousands in the space of 48 hours, lifting Seasalt & Co. along with their websites and social media pages into the top of search results across the internet, while rallying forces of both opponents and defenders. From behind their avatar ‘Seasalt & Co.’ responded to complaints at first with non-answers along the lines of ‘I’m sorry for you non-understanding’ and eventually a rote “positive thoughts only” mantra, repeating ‘we are for the people’, ‘no hate’ style slogans while rapidly deleting any commentary from opposing voices on their Facebook page.
Rachel answered a few questions about her experiences trying to interact with ‘Seasalt & Co.’ and why she felt it important to speak out publicly.
What was your initial reaction to the graphic of the hanging tree? What concerned you most to see it used in such a way and did it impact you personally?
My initial reaction was confusion. I needed to know why this was an advertisement and what were they trying to sell? My main concern was they were using such a triggering image to sell Photoshop actions, I sell jewelry I wouldn’t use such a historically horrific image to sell earrings. Imagine an ad for a necklace using imagery form the Holocaust? It’s ridiculous. I’m a black woman, seeing a noose in any context impacts me, we are still being “lynched” recently a black boy was hung right in my state, it’s not something I can take lightly and I don’t want anyone else to.
Why do you feel the response of Seasalt & Co. caused such conflict and anger from not only the Black but the creative communities as well?
Because she didn’t get it, she didn’t want to get it, as a business owner you don’t wanna offend anyone, you take criticism and you turn it around. She didn’t care about any of it, her reactions were that of a person with no critical thinking ability, it was our fault for being offended.
How could Seasalt & Co. have responded differently and worked to change the outcome and public opinion? What can other companies and individuals learn from this conflict?
Well, after several complaints she should have apologized sincerely, I don’t believe she intended to offend, I really don’t think she thought about it, she is white she has the privilege of not having to. Even if she still felt like it wasn’t offensive she should have taken it down and made a different ad, she was trying, according to her to convey ‘dark and gritty images’..you don’t need a noose AND a tree for that.
As citizens are we responsible for calling out ethical concerns publicly or should we try to resolve them privately?
As a black woman I cannot and should not be quiet, we had to be quiet or die not too long ago, I will never be quiet, I’m loud for the ones that couldn’t be or died trying. It’s time out for being quiet.
Jessica Humphrey, a professional photographer, designer, and owner of Monarch Visual also spoke out about the image publicly and shared her insight on the graphic and what an appropriate, professional response would have been from an industry perspective:
When you work within and market to the creative industry, you have to realize that words, symbols, and actions mean things. The same way we make art to intentionally evoke feelings, things we make can unintentionally evoke them as well. You should always try to be compassionate and LISTEN to the voices from within that community. Acknowledge them, address them head on. You may take some bruises, but people will still have faith in you and you’ll be better for it.
Multiple attempts to reach ‘Seasalt & Co’ for comment and information about ownership and practices was unsuccessful through Twitter, Facebook, and email to LEGAL@SEASALT-CO.COM the address given in the public statement posted by “Ashleigh” who apparently issued it as seen here. And for good reason seeing as Ashleigh does not seem to exist. In this profile on VK.com, a European social network, Ashleigh is listed as customer service for ‘Seasalt & Co.’ Ashleigh Mercer’s Facebook page can be seen here posting the same “Art Not War” graphic that the Seasalt & Co. Facebook page posted here. It was also posted on the owner of Seasalt & Co., Brittany Nicole’s personal Facebook page along with calls for No Hate before those were also erased. ‘Ashleigh Mercer’ was also seen liking comments and posts on the ‘Seasalt & Co.’ Facebook page.
Most telling is that the stock photo for Ashleigh’s profile is located right here on iStockPhoto and was found along with 18 other results found by reverse searching the profile using the TinEye search engine. It does not take an expert in the law to know setting up a fake identity as your legal or customer service department for your fictitious company is not only ethically wrong but legally wrong, and possibly criminally so.
Stock photography is something Seasalt & Co. seem to be familiar with. The image in the debated hanging tree graphic is not all that original, it actually uses a Shutterstock photo taken by user andreiuc88 published here and another version here, emails have been sent to Shutterstock to verify whether the images used are purchased but this is yet to be determined. Few artists and reputable designers would argue that an advertising image of a stock photo taken by another photographer with a Photoshopped noose, moody filter, and a provocative name qualify as art let alone social commentary, but this is the stance initiated and maintained by the ‘Seasalt & Co.’ Facebook page in defense of the graphic from the outset. According to their statements the image and product is clearly “for artists going through personal battels” and they are huge “supporters and advocates and are the voice for the unheard” this has become a key messaging tactic used to deflect any questions about their conduct. After being down for a few hours once crisis peaked online, the ‘Seasalt & Co.’ Facebook page has since been wiped of almost anything that relates to the incident and all dissenting voices, no matter how mild, are rapidly blocked or even threatened with legal action. As possibly intended “The Hanging Tree” served not only to incite anger in an already rallied and swift to act community as seen during the recent public education of Strange Fruit PR, but rallied supporters of ‘free speech’ quick to align questioning advertising as sympathizing with terrorism. The reasons why the black community responded so quickly and effectively are clearly detailed in this article by Pia Glenn on XOJANE. The ethics of ‘The Hanging Tree’ image or the use of imagery that commodifies death by racial violence, suicide, and self harm is an absolutely vital and important discussion happening across the internet on sites like Wonkette and Feministe.
The remainder of this article focuses on investigating the response and historical behavior of ‘Seasalt & Co.’ and it’s apparent owner, Ms. Brittany Nicole Davis, as it relates to the creative community and industry. Included is information on concrete legal actions that can be taken by those who may have been harmed by the actions of this business owner and to help us all report on fraudulent business practices like identity fraud and piracy to the proper agencies.
Why publish this information publicly here? When children do harm we usually try to stop them from doing it again, the same should hold true for the businesses and companies we support or engage with. Sometimes those lessons can happen privately, especially when it is a first time or a minor offense between individuals and no lasting harm has been done. If the behavior is already public, is escalating, damaging to whole groups of people or our industry standards and has previous history we may also have a duty to report and look closer as concerned citizens. As a trusted resource for ethical issues that concern the creative community OMHG is reporting on this in the hopes of educating artists, consumers, and companies about best practices while setting a standard for reporting on these concerns.
Turns out this isn’t the first time, Ms. Davis, the documented owner of the business registered under a Fictious Name in the state of Florida as Seasalt Paperie (alias Seasalt & Co.), has been in the spotlight for questionable ethics and illegal actions. A few minutes of looking on Google turned up documented allegations of an issue that is very important to online safety; piracy, false business identities and aliases, and misleading information or lies told to public and consumers. Unlike copying issues of who-used-what-inspiration-first these are very serious, potentially criminal activities for creative companies and service providers to engage in or affiliate with. They also decrease consumer confidence and the capacity of credible business owners to produce quality work in a safe online environment.
The reporting on the conflict with Seasalt & Co. in the media this week by some widely read online sources such as PetaPixel, Feministe, ColorLines, even the Miami Times, and many more was problematic in referencing ‘Seasalt & Co.’ variously as a ‘graphic design firm’, ‘graphic design company’, ‘photo editing tool business’ and ‘small business’, without naming owners or verifying sources. This gave readers a false impression of company size and unwarranted credibility in our industry to what does not appear to be a design firm, may not even be a business, and is possibly one of many identities used by a single person for questionable ethical purposes and fraudulent activity.
Along with showing the world another example of racism in 2015, Rachel Stewart was also uncovering an old story for Terry Cutlip of Sassy Designs Inc.Terry’s company is a reputable business that according to their about page has an online shop selling close to 2,000 digital design items with over 18,000 registered customers. Sassy Designs Inc. is well documented and has been operating successfully and continuously under the same name (initially as an LLC and then incorporating in 2010) since 2002.
In January of 2012, Terry was on a dinner date with her husband when she was alerted by a Facebook message from a friend that something major was happening related to her business, the contents of this are documented here by photographer Robyn Pollman of Buttons and Bows Photography and Paperie Boutique. Terry’s case is also publicly documented in a blog post called “The Cost of Sharing : Copyright is Very Real” which comes up fairly quickly with a search of ‘Seasalt & Co.’ or ‘Seasalt Paperie’.
Terry provided extensive documentation and clear answers to the questions asked about what happened, the response, and the aftermath. Her responses also help serve to educate all artists and creatives on copyright, digital theft, and piracy.
Do you believe Seasalt & Co https://www.facebook.com/seasaltpaperie is owned by Ms. Brittany Davis?
Yes, I know that Seasalt & Co https://www.facebook.com/seasaltpaperie is owned by Ms. Brittany Davis. The original name of the business was Seasalt Paperie as noted in the customized Facebook link. [Here is the document from] Florida Secretary of State’s website showing that the business name “Seasalt Paperie” is registered as a fictitious name to Ms. Brittany Davis. This also includes her current home address in Floral City, FL. This is the address in FL that all court notices for my case have been sent to and it is verified to be hers.
Did having your work resold and dealing with this case and Ms. Davis impact you either personally and financially?
I have to clarify – she was NOT reselling my work. She was not profiting from it financially in any way that I am aware of. She had all of my items posted on a piracy / file sharing website. She actually took a screenshot of windows explorer on her computer showing ALL of my files that she had and then she made them available to this underground community for free. In exchange for her “share” she was then given files from other “pirates” belonging to other designers that she had been wanting but, did not want to actually pay for. Kind of an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” deal. All of it 100% illegal and blatant theft.
Her theft absolutely impacted me financially. She had over 100 files of mine with an average retail of $4.00 each. This group of files was downloaded over 19,000 times. Imagine if all of those people that were getting them for free actually paid for them? What if even HALF of them made a purchase? That is a lot of money and that is what substantiated our $8.3 MILLION damages request in court. What the court felt comfortable awarding me was $210,000 and that figure comes from a provable loss of income from the years 2012, 2013, and 2014 based on my corporate tax returns and profit and loss statements.
The stress of the entire case of course affected me personally. The incident happened in January of 2012. I worked with my attorney for nearly a year to gather information and proof to substantiate our case and then the official complaint was filed with the Cuyahoga County Court in April of 2013. My judgment was awarded in August of 2014. I invested a lot of time into this, not only to collect damages for what she had done to me but, to be one person that finally stood up against this type of situation to prove that fighting is worth it. I firmly believe that if we can work together as a community and support each other that eventually the good will always prevail. I was ONE of nearly a dozen vendors affected and the ONLY ONE that took legal action. I can’t speak for why the others did not but, the most common response I hear to this type of thing is that people feel they can’t or won’t win and that it will be a waste of time for nothing in return. That thinking only allows the bad guys to win.
How would you describe the behavior and attitude of Ms. Davis in response to your case?
I see an exact repeat of behavior with this new incident. Her initial response was to deny any wrongdoing and go on the defensive. She was VERY smug and refused to apologize for anything. As you can see in the screen shots included in my blog post about my case, her defense was that she is a single parent that doesn’t have a husband to pay her bills and other people are doing the same thing. Her and her pirate friends also went so far as to create a fake account on this underground file sharing website using the name of a business I used to own so that they could try to claim that I was one of them participating in the same illegal behavior. She was so brazen and smug that she actually outed herself and gave her full name, age, location, and names of her businesses at the time. And of course she threw in there that she would turn the tables and sue for defamation because we busted her for stealing. She claimed we were cyber bullying her! Then she began deleting comments and blocking people.
Did you attempt to resolve this conflict privately? Why did you decide to go public with your story?
There was a lot of chaos happening online, very much similar to the explosion you are seeing with this latest issue but, contained mostly to Facebook and the underground forum. I wasn’t even home when this was all uncovered – I was alerted via a Facebook message while I was on a dinner date with my husband. By the time I got home to really see what was going on the whole thing was blown wide open and her behavior and the details of the situation forced me to skip any attempt at resolving anything privately with her.
I shared my story because copyright infringement and piracy are two very big and very real issues that a lot of people think they understand but, they really don’t understand them enough. I wanted to let people know that sharing of copyright protected files is illegal – whether you share them with one person or thousands – and it is something that can be punishable in a court of law. She stated “I purchased the files from you. I can do what I want with them.” Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works at all.
I also wanted the professional photography community (the majority of her customers as well as mine) to know that there was someone that they might think was trustworthy and ethical that wasn’t really that way at all. You really do need to be careful who you are doing business with.
In light of the recent conflict Seasalt & Co. had over “The Hanging Tree” image are you surprised that your case and ethical questions have resurfaced?
I am not surprised at all. I know that my blog post, which was originally posted in August of 2014, has been shared across social media numerous times and I know that it does come up relatively quickly in a google search of her business name.
Do you think this pattern of behavior will stop?
Absolutely not. Especially since this newest incident was so very public compared to mine and she responded the exact same way. Defensive, threatening, and unapologetic. Ironically, she has a Photoshop action set named “Unapologetic”.
Many creatives are told to just ‘let it go’, ‘be original’, ‘don’t worry about copying or IP theft’ and to avoid public negativity online. Do you agree with any of these statements or do you feel we have a responsibility as citizens of our on and offline communities to share information so we can make thoughtful decisions?
I am all about being original, for sure. There is a difference between blatant copying and being inspired by another artist’s work. I definitely feel that we have a responsibility to share information with each other so that we all can make thoughtful and informed decisions. I definitely would want to know if a company that I was potentially going to do business with had ever engaged in unethical business practices. I wouldn’t want to align myself with anyone or any business that didn’t share similar ethical and moral boundaries.
Since Ms. Davis never paid the damages awarded to you by the court and has never taken responsibility for her actions what would you like to see as the outcome of this recent conflict. Are you concerned that other creatives will continue to purchase products of questionable ethics from her or her affiliates?
I am definitely concerned that unknowing individuals will continue to be fooled by her and will continue to support a business that is engaging in unethical behaviors. As seen by the comments that were being left on her business Facebook page it is obvious that she has a herd of sheep that believe whatever she says and think she can do no wrong – even when there is black and white evidence, public record from a court of law no less, to support claims of unethical and illegal behavior.
Should she be allowed to continue her pattern of destroying evidence and setting up new identities?
Absolutely not. This pattern has been ongoing for years now. It is time for the cycle to end.
After winning her case Terry got the okay from her attorney to go public and wrote her blog post for Sassy Designs that has since circulated wide and far. Seasalt Paperie/Seasalt & Co. published a response on their blog in 2014 that has since been deleted but screenshots can be seen here and here. Why the name change from Seasalt Paperie to Seasalt & Co. and potentially to yet another business named ‘new Seasalt Boardwalk’ ? The answer might be in the response from a source that asked to stay anonymous due to the fact that she has allegedly already been on the receiving end of Ms. Davis’s anger online after inquiring into why then Seasalt Paperie was claiming credit for stock photos on a site that claimed to be selling tools to photographers.
Recently Ms. Davis/Seasalt & Co. emailed customers this newsletter and posted a donation page on their website to recover funds allegedly unknowingly spent on pirated 3rd party software. The email asks for donations of $575 when the script is listed at $178. The “scam site” she claims to have purchased from lists it at $49-$199 while the “real” site she claims to now have to purchase from lists it at $178.
UPDATE 4:56pm: There is now a YouCaring fundraiser set up to fundraise $5000 for Seasalt & Co. & help in “standing up for justice against those responsibile for promoting and spreading hate, racism and online riots causing severe damage to Seasalt & Co.” For how to report on fraudulent YouCaring campaigns scroll to the bottom of this post or click here.
To help with filing potential complaints and to protect the public a full disclosure of all links, pages, and brand identities found that appear to belong to or be associated with ‘Seasalt & Co.’ and Ms. Brittany Nicole Davis is as follows:
- Seasalt & Co.: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, CreativeMarket, Etsy, VK.com
- Seasalt Paperie
- Seasalt Boardwalk (claims to be ‘coming soon’ as seen on the advertising page here)
- Pea Pods and Coconuts
- Davis Creations
- Candid Memoirs Photography
- The Candid Couture Photography Shoppe
- Known to operate using the name Brittany McNamera
- Research also turned up Seasalt & Co. files on two file sharing sites Avaxsearch.com and GraphicEx.com
If you have had dealings with any of these companies or aliases that seem ethically questionable, if you think you have been defrauded, or you have further documentation there are options available to you.
If enough people report and submit documentation a criminal investigation will be opened. Doing business under fake identies is illegal as is pirating or reselling copyrighted files.
If you are a victim of or witness to internet crime: Be a Good Citizen!
Document it. Screenshots, emails, and other documents are used to determine whether the complaint is valid. While even deleted information can be accessed by agencies like the FBI keeping personal records helps lend credibility to your complaint.
Report it. If you are a victim of or witness to internet crime as long as one of the parties involved is in the USA you can report to The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). Internet crime as defined by the IC3 website is: ‘any illegal activity involving one or more components of the Internet, such as websites, chat rooms, and/or email. Internet crime involves the use of the Internet to communicate false or fraudulent representations to consumers. If you believe you are the victim of an Internet crime, or if you are aware of an attempted crime, you can file a complaint on our website. Be sure to include as much information as possible about yourself (i.e. name, email address, mailing address, etc.), the perpetrator, and the Internet crime that you are reporting in order to expedite your complaint.’’
If you are a resident of Florida or aware of a scam or online crime you can also report to Consumer Protection Division of The Florida Office of the Attorney General. In particular the Florida Communications Fraud Act may apply.
In both the USA and Canada you can report unethical business behavior to the Better Business Bureau in your state or province.
If all parties are within in Canada internet crime relating to fraud should be reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center and online harassment to your local RCMP.
In Florida, as with most other states as well as internationally, online threats are often considered a serious, if not criminal, offense. Without My Consent, offers tools to fight online harassment including details on reporting ‘menacing’ or criminal harassment in Florida Statutory Criminal Law. defined by the Official site of the Florida Legislature as “(2) Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking, a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.” Chapter 748 of the 2014 Florida Statutes.
Notify service providers immediately. Online service providers should all have terms of service and policies prohibiting false accounts, fraud, and illegal, hateful, or malicious activity. Most of them also prohibit content that is violent or promotes suicide and self-harm. Report suspicious behaviour and accounts appropriately as soon as you see them. These companies often outsource consumer protection to other companies who sift through massive amounts of data, give them all a hand by reporting clearly and quickly. Enough emails about specific users causes them to flag those accounts for inspection.
CreativeMarket: Learn how to report questionable content and users here.
YouCaring: To report suspected fraudulent YouCaring Campaigns email email@example.com with the suspected URL. To learn more, click here.
Sometimes the internet gives the illusion that we can rewrite history and revise our opinions with conveniently deleting evidence or identities but with so many eyes on us every action we make online leaves a trail that over time becomes a public document of our values and conduct. This new kind of transparency is making ethical and consistent professional behavior online not just a luxury but a top priority for all digital citizens and companies. It is also law. When you combine advertising ethics, social accountability, corporate (or personal) responsibility, copyright infringement and possible real crime, scamming, and fraud looking carefully at the facts is important if we want to call ourselves a community and claim to protect each other.
What do you think – should artists be allowed to unapologetically do whatever they like in the name of artistic freedom? Has Seasalt & Co. behaved consistently in an ethical manner? Is reporting on these types of issues publicly important for the creative community?
If you have further information or documentation you wish to share, leave a comment or contact OMHG. Please use the comments to have a thoughtful and respectful conversation about these recent events, our duty to report and inform, and your experiences with online crime or ethics.