Oops, I copied! Have I done something wrong?
Recently, I was faced with a situation of someone copying a piece of my art and passing it on as their own. I posted this painting on Facebook and asked the questions “Should I be upset and violated or should I feel flattered”?
I had lots of mixed feelings on seeing the above with many comments and opinions answering this question. Regardless of what artist’s opinion is on this subject…it comes down to is it right or is it wrong? Legal or not legal? And how does this effect the artist community as a whole? To answer this question philosophically, I believe we can learn a lot through copying for our own art education. Much can be learned by trying to reproduce another’s piece of art. Unfortunately, philosophy only goes so far. Here is the legal answer to this age old question that was published in The Artist’s Magazine in 2008.
By: Leonard DuBoff | January 29, 2008
Q. If I’m learning to paint by copying other artists’ work from the Internet or pictures in books for my own benefit (not wishing to sell them), is that legal? Also, can I legally sell a copy of a painting of another artist (living or dead), so long as on the front of the painting I sign my name followed by “copied after” plus the original artist’s name?
A. Historically, artists perfected their skills by copying the works of old masters. In fact, this still goes on today in many American and European museums, where each copy is required to have different dimensions from the original in order to prevent sale of the copy as an original.
Copying pre-existing works is legal, so long as the original work is in the public domain (meaning that the copyright on that work has expired). If, however, the copyright has not expired, the copyright owner has several exclusive rights, including the right to reproduce the copyrighted work and the right to sell the copyrighted work. This means that unless a defense such as fair use is available, the making of an unauthorized reproduction of a protected work (for example, copying another artist’s painting) is an infringement if the copy is substantially similar to the original. The unauthorized sale of an infringing copy may also be an infringement.
It is, therefore, important for you to determine whether the works you copy are still protected by copyright or whether those works are in the public domain. When your copies are substantially similar to the original, you are safe only in copying works that are in the public domain. Merely identifying the source of the work you copied will not provide you with a defense, and doing so may even make it easier for the copyright owner to pursue a claim of infringement against you.
Note: Copyright laws are subject to change. This article was originally published in the April 2007 issue of The Artist’s Magazine and reflects the laws in effect at the time the article was written.
This is a tricky situation and one must be careful when thinking about copying someone else’s work and claiming it as their own. Most artist I know don’t have the financial means to pursue someone who has copied their work, but the public humililiation that one could ensue could hurt their reputation as an artist and follow them indefinitely. Is it worth the risk? For me no! I think I will stick to taking my own photos or using a public domain site, such as Pixabay.com and Photos for Artist (an art group on Facebook) to help me to continue in my progression as an artist.
I hope this article has been helpful and has answered the question for you. Again, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments which you can easily share below. Thank you for reading and as always…have an artful week!