Photoshop controversy in the online makeup artist community

Shannon Begley, also known as @shannonvartistry on Instagram, spent hours upon hours perfecting her eye look – from choosing the perfect combination of colours, to blending her eyeshadow carefully. 

Black eyeliner, orange and brown hues and the slightest bit of shimmer on her inner corner, before she carefully added the final touches: The Louis Vuitton logo hand painted onto her eyelid crease with concealer. 

She worked tirelessly, carving out the details of the L and the V with great precision, only to see makeup artist and YouTube star James Charles, later do the same look, with Photoshop. Charles has since been under fire for using Photoshop.

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Photo by @jamescharles on Instagram.

“I, and so many of my friends within the community, spend tireless hours doing detailed looks by hand, only for Instagram to not show it to our followers [and] to be, quite frankly, largely passed over [in favour of] these influencer giants,” said Begley, 25, in an interview on Nov. 28, 2019, explaining where her frustrations come from.

She believes Instagram’s new algorithm seems to only promote those who have an established presence on the platform. Begley is a stay-at-home mom and a makeup artist. Instagram is her social media outlet of choice, where she shares her art with her 6.3k followers.

The rise of social media “influencers” has introduced a hierarchy amongst the MUAs of Instagram. In a world where timing is key, some will do anything to be at the top of this hierarchy, which leaves little to no room for the recognition of new talent.

Just like James Charles, artists like Marlena Stell, Nikita Dragun, and Huda Kattan are very familiar names in the online beauty community. They all have one thing in common: as makeup artists, they’ve used their online platforms to advance their makeup careers through social media and create their own makeup brands.

But where do we draw the line between inspiration and something more?

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Photo by @shannonvartistry on Instagram

When placed beside each other, it’s clear which one seems more professional looking – Charles’s look. In Begley’s, although it’s also very well done, you can see the brush strokes in the pattern of the Louis Vuitton logo. 
Begley’s look, she explicitly stated in her Instagram caption, was done with some minor edits to her work in Photoshop. Begley was clear that editing is not the issue, but the lack of transparency is.

“If he had disclosed that, no problem! But not doing so sets an unrealistic standard for not only smaller aspiring [makeup] artists, but the general consumers who follow him as well,” she said.

After the fact, Charles did state on several occasions that he uses Face Tune and Photoshop to edit his photos – including this one in particular. But in the moment, his caption read: “with a baby louis vuitton under her underarm 👜🔥 I turned the instagram filter into a makeup look! what do you think 👀” .

It could be mistaken as his own work, Begley insisted.

“What happens when someone goes to a freelancer and asks for something similar because they think it’s attainable with 100 per cent makeup? Very few freelance MUAs will be able to recreate that to that degree of precision… It only does a disservice to the community!” she said.

Toronto-based makeup artist Melanie Viger, also known as @muavee, has encountered these dilemmas herself. She has 12 years of experience, her own makeup line and 77.7k followers on Instagram.

“I think it’s happened to a lot of people. It’s not only just taking their photos and their words, but it’s also like [their] style or technique, copying things like that,” said Viger in an interview.

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Melanie Viger photo.
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Melanie Viger photo.

Photos via

Instead of people plagiarising a makeup technique of hers, Viger says that she has encountered people who use her photos of her work and pass it off as their own .

“I’ve seen that a lot actually, like, if you were to Google, ‘Toronto makeup artists’, there will be people that come up and it’s some of my pictures,” said Viger.

For the average consumer, Viger’s advice is: Do your research.

 “If you look at somebody’s promoted picture and that’s how they show their work, you’ve got to look at the consistency. Are all the pictures like that? Does it look like stock photography or is it their own?”

Viger’s personal philosophy on plagiarism in the beauty community is to, “trust that their own karma will sort them out.”

But looking out for oneself passes the accountability to the consumer. So how do the “influencer giants” face consequences for their actions? 

 The answer lies in copyright law.

“Copyright law protects original artistic works: that is, works expressed in a visual medium, that are not copied and involve some skill and judgment. If a work meets this standard, it is automatically protected. There’s no need for registration,” says Dr. Carys Craig. 

Craig is an associate professor of law at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, and an expert in Intellectual Property law. 

According to Canadian copyright law, any form of art that is reasonably permanent, is considered intellectual property. 

If anyone other than the owner was to copy this work, like in Begley’s case, that would infringe copyright. If it involves passing off someone else’s work as if it’s yours, like in Viger’s case, that might rise to the level of trademark infringement. 

But makeup looks themselves are a tricky middle ground. 

“If a particular look is part of the common stock of ideas in the makeup industry, like winged eyeliner or smokey eye shadow, it will not be protected as intellectual property,” Craig explained.”It would be unfair to others to let one person effectively monopolize that look.”

Craig believes that taking the legal route is not the most effective, because of the risks to both parties in a settlement.

“The litigation process takes a long time to unfold, and likely moves too slowly to address the actual harms.”

She suggests that the most effective tactic is through the platform itself. Some social media outlets have policies which regulate content like this. Depending on the platform, they will allow users to submit claims and flag content as an intellectual property violation, which can get the content taken down. Demanding acknowledgement and attribution from plagiarists can also be very effective.

As Craig put it, “Attempts to use the law to prevent plagiarism are rarely worth the time and energy one could be spending creating the next great look!”

For lesser known makeup artists like Begley, this is exactly what she does. 

“Makeup, for me, started out as a way to feel more confident in my own skin. I started playing with makeup very young, being chronically insecure for as long as I can remember. As I got older it became a way to express myself,” Begley said.

The content she posts on her Instagram has turned into a comfortable space for her to express her creativity and emotions. As her account grows, she continues to do what she loves and form a community around her who find the same solace in makeup.

“I am forever grateful I found those loose pearlescent eyeshadows in Dollar Tree when I was little.”

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Posted: Dec 15 2019 9:59 pm
Filed under: News