I had a question from one of my art students today:
I see lots of things around that are lovely to draw – a statue, some street art or graffiti, a design on a piece of material etc, but at what point is it “cheating” to use these ideas in your own work? Or is it normal to take ideas from around you and develop or adjust them? Is this copying or is it inspiration?
This is a huge question, really.
The law is really strict on copyright, but it’s being eroded away by online theft and sharing of images. The sharing of images on social media is causing a blurry line for copyright.
A Note about Copyright
It’s important to know that copyright is always attributed to the original artist as soon as the artwork or written work is created: it’s automatic and the creator does not specifically need to put the copyright symbol on it.
The original creator of the work retains the copyright immediately and for their lifetime, unless specifically assigned to another entity.
Copyright is only assigned to someone else if done in writing with a specific contract. If you buy an artwork you do not automatically have the right to reproduce it, the copyright of that artwork is still retained by the artist unless you have the assignment agreement, which usually has an additional cost.
I Always Try and Play Fair
I cannot advise on the intricacies of Copyright Law, but I can share with you how I work.
I always try to play fair, and put myself in the shoes of the original artist.
I never steal images (even reference photos) without permission and attribution. I try to only use photos that are posted on copyright-free sites, where photographers have given us all free rein to use them for whatever we like. Or I look for images where the license specifically mentions unlimited use without attribution.
When you are searching in Google images you can filter on the license type. I’ve noticed this option is currently missing in the menus on some mobile devices.
Artworks by Others, Art Classes, Public Art
I never take photos of other people’s artworks in galleries.
For art created in workshops or classes, it’s important to acknowledge the teacher and their guidance when publishing the artwork. This is even more important when the reference material is supplied by them (especially in the form of their own painting). For example, the paintings I created in the recent Winter School retreat I attended, are posted with the text “created in a workshop with Craig Penny” or similar. I asked for and received permission from him to sell them, as they came from his own source material.
For public art such as statues, I think drawing and sketching them on location is wonderful, or taking photos to refer to later should be fine I would think.
However all that said, there is nothing wrong with inspiration.
If you see an artwork that inspires an idea in you, then go for it.
I always try to let the idea run free so that the end result is unrecognisable from the original artists’ work, just using the spark of an idea to grow something new.
I am unqualified to advise on copyright law.
But let’s all play fair, and put ourselves in the shoes of the original artist.